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The Holiness of Human Sexuality
The Holiness of Human Sexuality

Biblical Erotic Poetry

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Holiness of Human Sexuality

Biblical Erotic Poetry
Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Early Jewish scholars and Christian church fathers each debated whether the Song of Songs should be included in the Scriptures. We can understand why, because by any definition, it’s erotic poetry from beginning to end, while also surely a metaphor for God’s passionate delight in us and pursuit of us. Scholar and author Stephanie Paulsell speaks of the boldly and bodily affirming message (good news!) this biblical book offers us:

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” So opens the most erotic book of the Bible, the Song of Solomon, or, as it is sometimes called, the Canticle of Canticles, the Song of Songs. In this long poem lying at the heart of scripture between the pragmatic Ecclesiastes and the sublime Isaiah, a woman, “black and beautiful,” and a man, “radiant and ruddy,” speak the language of desire, cataloguing every inch of each other’s body, every smell and taste. “Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine,” he says to her (7:2). “His cheeks are like beds of spices, yielding fragrance. His lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh,” she tells her friends (5:13). . . .

From the pages of scripture sacred to Jews and Christians alike, the Song of Songs remains a testimony to mutuality in love, to the beauty of the human body, to the goodness of sexual desire, and the power of love: “Love is as strong as death,” the Song proclaims, “passion fierce as the grave.”

Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love all the wealth of his house,
it would be utterly scorned (8:6–7).

In the Song of Songs we find no anxiety about desire’s power to deny us the freedom to be who God intends us to be. In the Song of Songs, desire is portrayed as Mark Doty describes it in his meditation on the death of his lover, Wally Roberts: “the ineradicable force that binds us to the world.” [1] The relationship described in the Song is one of mutuality; the lovers are evenly matched in the force of their desire. They are equally vulnerable in their desire to be desired by the other; they are equally determined to give and receive pleasure. . . .

Through desire, Doty writes, “we are implicated in another being, which is always the beginning of wisdom, isn’t it . . . ?” [2] What a wonderful way to account for why the Song of Solomon appears in the wisdom literature of the Bible and why it ought to matter to us as we construct a Christian practice of honoring the body. Because it shows us a path, through desire, outside the boundaries of our individual selves. Because it offers a way of receiving the world that is motivated by love and speaks of God’s own passionate creativity. Because it teaches that in seeking the pleasure of another we may find our own deepest pleasure and in the commitment to another we may come to know ecstasy.

[1] Mark Doty, Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir (HarperCollins: 1996), 17.

[2] Doty, 20.

Stephanie Paulsell, Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice (Jossey- Bass: 2002), 145, 147, 148.

Story from Our Community:
My sexuality has always been a great grief to me. The teachings in the Daily Meditations that we are “healed by our wounds” and that the way forward is not power and confrontation, but re-identification with our True Self is bringing about peace and healing. Thank you for these insights, which I wish I had had 40 years ago.
—Andrew W.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Impressions (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: In its rainbow of colors, human sexuality can be many things: delicate, powerful, mysterious, beautiful. How might we foster a healthy relationship with the holy gift of sexuality?
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