Song of Songs 8.1-5
O that you were like a brother to me,
who nursed at my mother’s breast!
If I met you outside, I would kiss you,
and no one would despise me.
I would lead you and bring you
into the house of my mother,
and into the chamber of the one who bore me.
I would give you spiced wine to drink,
the juice of my pomegranates.
O that his left hand were under my head,
and that his right hand embraced me!
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
do not stir up or awaken love
until it is ready!
Who is that coming up from the wilderness,
leaning upon her beloved?
Under the apple tree I awakened you.
There your mother was in labour with you;
there she who bore you was in labour.
As the Song of Songs begins its final chapter it repeats words from earlier chapters. The Shulamite longs for a caress (2.6 and 3.3). Before the New English Translation Bible became deliberately more euphemistic about sex, its first edition read: “his left hand caresses my head, and his right hand stimulates me”. Our scriptures are not so interested in telling women’s stories, so we should beware tucking what we do have behind niced-up words. The Shulamite woman is able to say how she would like to be touched. How good that is.
But if we are not avoiding the obvious grope, neither can we overlook the woman’s utterly confusing desire that her lover be instead a brother to her, that they could have breastfed together, and chastely kiss in public. What is it she is asking for? Some possibilities: a clumsily stated wish that they could have been in love from the moment of their birth; frustration that male-female relationships are policed in the public domain, except for the closest kin; an attempt to express that she wants to move on from a private erotic love to a communal and holistic one.
Does your safeguarding instinct go on alert as she shares these fantasies? Is she revealing something about an abusive relationship with one or more of her brothers? There was a hint that they were angry with her, and once forced her to labour in the heat of the day. The hostility in that passage also should cause us to wonder whether this (how young?) woman is safe.
God desires your wholeness, which includes you being safe from harm, safe from exploitation. We must desire the same for every human person. Our world is safer when we keep our ears, hearts, and instincts on alert for people hinting at harm. Be ready to slow down and listen when others share their stories. Seek safeguarding counsel whenever needed, and to keep yourself ready to listen when a person’s trouble reaches your ears.
As you prepare to pray, reflect on this hymn lyric*:
As the secret hurts long hidden
may at last be brought to light,
may the truth unlock the freedom
that is every person’s right.
may our community be a place of safety
in which all are safe to tell their story.
And let us celebrate all that is good,
and face all that does harm,
leaning on your strength
and seeking for your justice.
* Safeguarding Hymn – by Ally Barrett (2017)