Two Love Stories

The Song of Songs is really two love stories: the story of two lovers, and the story of their love for the Earth. Drawing inspiration from nature, they invent a metaphorical language to express their delight in each other's beauty, grace, and vigor. In the process, they become poetic embodiments of the land and its life.

My love is a gazelle, a wild stag.
There he stands on the other side
of our wall, gazing
between the stones.

---Song of Solomon 2:9

Your breasts are two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
grazing in a field of lilies.

---Song of Solomon 4:5

But there is more than metaphor in the ability of these two lovers to flow magically from shape to shape. Their fluidity arises from the author's sense of connectedness with the web of life. The Song is an articulation of the primordial religion of love and wonder, and the experience of mystical union. Deep love for another has the potential to lead us into the most profound communion with nature and its Source, sweeping away the illusion of separateness and uniting Heaven and Earth in a primordial sacred marriage.

This marriage is beautifully illustrated in verses 4:1 through 5:1, where the young woman's body is pictured "as a mountainous landscape teeming with animal life." (3) Suddenly she emerges from this landscape, and we find her standing with her lover on a mountain peak, in the rocky domain of wild animals. Sensing danger, he urges her to return with him to the valley, and, after following him down, she melts, once again, into the landscape. A fresh running stream traces their path from that panoramic vista in the mountains to a secret garden in the valley, thus bridging the gap between Heaven and Earth. This stream brings life-giving water from the sky and surges like a fountain in the Earth's fertile recesses. As they make love, she is both the woman in the garden and the garden itself.

This metaphor is a familiar one in the native American spiritual tradition, evoking the lovemaking of Mother Earth and Father Sky. It is an archetypal image, and here in the Song of Songs, it conveys the experience of two lovers who have dissolved each other's boundaries, and spilled out into the world around them, merging with the land and its life; merging with nature and its androgynous Source. Thus their lovemaking is interwoven with that of Mother Earth and Father Sky, who comes to his lover in the wind---caressing the grass and trees---and the rain that streams down from the mountains:

Your branches are an orchard
of pomegranate trees heavy with fruit,
flowering henna and spikenard,
spikenard and saffron, cane and cinnamon,
with every tree of frankincense,
myrrh and aloes,
all the rare spices.

You are a fountain in the garden,
a well of living waters
that stream from Lebanon.

Awake, north wind! 0 south wind, come,
breathe upon my garden,
let its spices stream out.
Let my lover come into his garden
and taste its delicious fruit.

I have come into my garden,
my sister, my bride,
I have gathered my myrrh and my spices,
I have eaten from the honeycomb,
I have drunk the milk and the wine.

Song of Solomon 4:13 - 5:1

Then I went down to the walnut grove
to see the new green by the brook,
to see if the vine had budded,
if the pomegranate trees were in flower.

And oh! before I was aware,
she sat me in the most lavish of chariots.

Song of Solomon 6:11 - 6:12

Come, my beloved,
let us go out into the fields
and lie all night among the flowering henna.

Let us go early to the vineyards
to see if the vine has budded,
if the blossoms have opened
and the pomegranate is in flower.

There I will give you my love.

The air is filled with the scent of mandrakes
and at our doors
rare fruit of every kind, my love,
I have stored away for you.

Song of Solomon 7:12 - 7:14

Paradise Lost

"The Song of Songs is a poem about the sexual awakening of a young woman and her lover. In a series of subtly articulated scenes, the two meet in an idealized landscape of fertility and abundance ---a kind of Eden---where they discover the pleasures of love."

---Ariel and Chana Bloch

The Song recalls for us the first flush of love and eros, but it goes beyond that to link this experience with the primordial religion of love and wonder. Its paradisiacal "landscape of fertility and abundance" is more than a poetic daydream. Like the writings of Hesiod, citing legends of the time before the Achaeans and the Dorians brought the god of war to Greece, it may actually preserve a memory of the comparative peace and prosperity of the Neolithic period of human history. Contemporary historians and archaeologists have been uncovering evidence that tends to confirm these ancient stories:

" archaeological discoveries, coupled with reinterpretations of older excavations, support the view that there were in our prehistory more peaceful societies. In extensive excavations of early European Neolithic settlements that had regular trade and other contact with one another, there are few signs of destruction through warfare or of fortifications. Moreover, there is in the rich art of the Neolithic a (to us) remarkable lack of scenes of men killing each other in "heroic " battles, and of men raping women."

"[The Song of Songs contains] important clues to an earlier time when, far from being a male "sex object," woman was seen as the conduit for what in Indian sacred writings is called the kundalini: the powerful divine energy from whence comes both life and bliss."

---Riane Eisler, "Sacred Pleasure"

The Song of Solomon was set in its final form some 300 years before the birth of Christ, and it preserves elements that are much older---rooted in a time when our sacred role in the renewal of life was thought to be the very heart of religion. For more than a thousand years the Song has been treated as an allegory representing the soul's love for God and God's love for his chosen people. Contemporary commentators are more likely to treat it as a collection of secular love poems, but this secularism is anachronistic, and unlikely in a pre-scientific age. No author composes poetry in a cultural vacuum---outside any context of spiritual tradition or cosmology---and clues to this context can be found within the poem itself. The Song's central metaphor---in which a woman's body is described as a garden, or a vineyard, or "a mountainous landscape teeming with animal life"---fits perfectly with the ancient belief that "Mother Earth" is the visible body of the Source of Life. This maternal aspect of God has been at least partially preserved in the Jewish and Christian mystical traditions:

"What does God do all day long? He gives birth. From the beginning of eternity God lies on a maternity bed giving birth to the All. God is creating this whole universe, full and entire, in this present moment."

---Meister Eckhart

"The world is pregnant with God."

---Angela of Foligno

Meister Eckhart lived in a time when a doctor of the church had to choose his words carefully, or risk being burned at the stake. By contrast, the author of the Song grew up in a culture that took God's maternity for granted. In that context, it would have been quite natural for a young woman who was crossing the border from childhood to motherhood to identify with the maternal Source of Life and imagine herself as a garden of Earthly delights for her lover's pleasure. Unified in purpose with Mother Nature, the Song's Juliet shares her Mother's awesome power to bring new life into the world. So deep is her sense of participation in this power that she even seems to be able to command the wind. By Nature's alchemical magic, she draws her lover to her side:

Awake, north wind! O south wind, come,
breathe upon my garden,
let is spices stream out.

Let my lover come into his garden
and taste its delicious fruit.

Charged with Nature's passion for the renewal of life, she draws her Romeo more deeply into the story of the Earth.

"Eros is connective energy par excellence. Through erotic passion we overcome our habitual egoic insularity and reach out into the core of other beings. Blazing eros recognizes no barrier; it is the organic impulse toward wholeness"

---Georg Feuerstein

"The mystic, magus and poet of the past considered our relationship with nature as a loving one---not merely a sentimental appreciation on the part of humans, but rather a kinship and attraction among all elements. Eros keeps the planets in orbit, the seasons on time, and the organs of the body in harmony"

---Thomas Moore

The Wedding of Heaven and Earth

In the literature of "bridal mysticism," medieval mystics used the erotic language of the Song of Solomon to describe their ecstatic union with Jesus. Christian mystics---like the mystics of other spiritual traditions---discovered that, at the root of all, there is one unifying Self:

"The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing and one love."

---Meister Eckhart, German Sermon No. 12.

"The knower and the known are one. Simple people imagine that they should see God as if he stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge."

"God is nearer to me than I am to myself."

---Meister Eckhart

Speaking from the same vista of consciousness, Jesus said, "I am the vine and you are the branches."

In the Western spiritual tradition, the experience of connectedness with nature and continuity with its Source is usually associated with self-denial and disciplined prayer or meditation. But in the Song of Solomon this insight is charged with eros, reflecting the author's awareness that it can arise, at times, in a sexual context, as a result of deeply felt, selfless love---which is, after all, a way of transcending one's own limited sense of self. As Alan Watts pointed out in an exposition of Tantric yoga, selfless love can sometimes sweep away the illusion of separateness:

" an embrace of this kind, all considerations of time and place, of what and who, drop away ... and the pair discover themselves as the primordial 'love that makes the world go round.' There is an extraordinary melting sensation ... and, 'seeing their eyes reflected in each other's, they realize that there is one Self looking out through both... The conceptual boundary between male and female, self and other, dissolves, and--as every spoke leads to the hub--this particular embrace on this particular day discloses itself as going on forever, behind the scenes."

---Alan Watts, "Erotic Spirituality"

"The entire universe is a manifestation of our own deeper being. In our being we are naturally one with all. Through relationship we are trying to rediscover that unity... to discover ourselves beyond the boundaries of the physical body."

---David Frawley

"Through sacred sexuality, we directly participate in the vastness of being---the mountains, rivers, and animals of the Earth, the planets and the stars, and our next door neighbors"

---Georg Feuerstein

Wedding the Land

In the matriarchal societies of the ancient Near East, and during the transition to patriarchy, kingship was conferred by wedding the high priestess, which was a symbolic way of wedding the Earth herself---the maternal Source of life. We find a reference to this rite in verse 3:11. Notice that it is Solomon's mother who provides the crown, and his marriage which provides the occassion for coronation.

Come out, O daughters of Zion,
and gaze at Solomon the King!
See the crown his mother set on his head
on the day of his wedding,
the day of his heart's great joy.

---Song of Solomon 3:11

By wedding the land, the king became the shepherd of his kingdom and accepted the priviledge and responsibility of stewardship. This is an idea that needs to be reinvented for the 21st century. We are living in a perilous time, and the Earth is in dire need of responsible stewardship.

When two people fall in love and start a family, they affirm the beauty and essential goodness of this world. By blessing the Earth with children, we participate in the renewal of this unique human way of experiencing and exploring the universe. We co-create the world with God. We marry the land. As in the ancient rite of sacred marriage, a contemporary wedding presents an opportunity for two lovers to declare this affirmation of human life. And, for those who care deeply about the Earth and her distress, it presents an opportunity to declare their love and commitment, not only to each other but to their children and grandchildren.

In these perilous times, when human beings have the power to completely destroy the biosphere and abort all life on this planet, a wedding ceremony takes on a whole new meaning. Our species has been almost too successful in the long battle for survival, and we have yet to learn how to live in harmony with nature, and manage the Earth's finite resources in a way that is wise and sustainable. Our sacred role in the regeneration of life--- considered by our Neolithic ancestors to be the very heart of religion---has, in fact, become absolutely critical for the preservation of life on Earth.

Christians have a vital role to play in this much needed healing. As Mark Wallace put it in his essay, "The Green Face of God," the Christian spiritual tradition is the "the pharmakon of looming environmental disaster." Christianity is, in part, "both the cause of the problem and its solution."

"Lynn White, in a now famous essay, writes that Western Christianity's attack on paganism effectively stripped the natural world of any spiritual meaning by replacing the belief that the Sacred is in rivers and trees with the doctrine that God is a disembodied Spirit whose true residence is in heaven, not on earth.

The impact of Christianity's antipagan teachings has tended to empty the biosphere of any sense of God's presence in natural things.

But if the root of the environmental problem is deeply spiritual or religious at its core, it is also the case, ironically, that a partial answer to the problem lies in a rehabilitation of the earth-friendly teachings within the spiritual traditions that seem most hostile to nature, namely, the Christian tradition.

Christianity, then, is the pharmakon of looming environmental disaster: in part, it is both the cause of the problem and its solution. It is both the origin of the ecocidal "disease" from which we suffer and its "cure," insofar as it provides resources for a new green mindset toward nature that is a prophylactic against antinature attitudes and habits."

A rich store of such resources can be found in the Christian mystical tradition. And in the Song of Solomon, as I have tried to show, there is a profound spiritual dimension: a deep sense of interconnectedness with other sentient beings and continuity with the Source of Life. This is the consciousness that we need to cultivate in our art and literature, and translate into political action, if our children and grandchildren are to live and thrive in a free society on a healthy planet.

"The ecological spirituality called for today is founded in a deep recognition of the unity of life---a unity that is celebrated in the act of love"


"we share our somatic reality with countless other beings with whom we are interconnected and interdependent. Contemporary spirituality is, then, meaningful only to the degree that it is ecological in the broadest sense of the term."


"The Earth remains our mother just as God remains our father, and our mother will only lay in the father's arms those who are true to her. Earth and its distress---this is the Christian's song of songs."


"Our religious vocation for the foreseeable future is Earthkeeping. Fidelity to God now expresses itself as fidelity to the Earth."


"The world is pregnant with God."

---Angela of Foligno

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