Breaking Open the Word: Song of Songs 5-8

Original Photo by  Thomas Kelley  on  Unsplash  - text our addition

Original Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash - text our addition

Sunday, March 10th, 2019 – Song of Songs Chapters 5-8

               Today we shared our insights on the second half of God’s beautiful love song to humanity, the Song of Songs. Drawing on last week’s discussion about the “apple tree” being the Cross, one Sister had an interesting thought on 8:5b (“under the apple tree I awakened you; it was there that your mother conceived you”). This verse can apply to Our Lady, for it was at the foot of the Cross that she truly became our spiritual mother. In fact, following the lead of the Church Fathers, we can also draw parallels with the Garden of Eden: through a tree (of knowledge of good and evil), Adam and Eve brought death to all their children, while through another Tree (the Cross, the Tree of Life), Christ and Mary brought life to all mankind.

               We also discussed how different editions of the Bible divide the Song into speakers (the Bride, the Bridegroom, and the Chorus/Daughters of Jerusalem) very differently. Often, these variations affect the meaning of certain passages significantly. For instance, take 2:7 and 8:4: “I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and hinds of the field, do not stir up or awaken [my] love until it is ready.” The New American Bible attributes this verse to the Bride, thus suggesting a merely natural interpretation -- a mature woman advising younger women to be patient and to wait until they are ready for love. Other editions, such as the Jerusalem Bible, attribute this verse to the Bridegroom. In this case, the verse could be read as the Divine Lover respecting the free will of His human bride, refusing to let her be awakened to His love from her spiritual “slumber” until she is ready to respond freely.

               However, the most beautiful reflections came as one Sister shared the connections she saw with our recently departed Sister Therese Marie. St. John Paul II once urged women religious to make each of their lives “an original new edition of the Song of Songs,” and we have had the privilege to see our Sister do just that. While she underwent many sufferings throughout her life, these trials were but the “desert” where her Bridegroom was slowly but surely purifying her from earthly attachments and teaching her to “[lean] upon her Lover” alone (8:5). During her last months on earth, Sister grew in joy and peacefulness, even as her failing health meant that she had to give up more and more of her own autonomy. Her gratitude, thoughtfulness, and love for Jesus Crucified were an incredible witness to all of us in community, as we watched in awe the work of the Divine Artist in her soul.

Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.
— Eph. 5:14 (NAB)

Even Sister Therese Marie’s death itself reflected the Song of Songs. She fell into a very deep sleep from which she could not be roused, and it was as if the Lord was telling us “not to stir up or awaken My love until she is ready!” (cf 8:4) Though on earth she was sleeping, He was preparing to “awaken” her in eternity, where she could rejoice “under the apple tree” with Him forever (8:5). Now, seeing Him face to face, she can truly sing that “deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away!” (8:7)

As one Sister shared, it is truly a privilege to witness the triumph of God’s love – that love which is “strong as death” and “relentless as the nether world” (8:6) – in each of our Sisters. In Sister Therese Marie we have seen this love’s glorious fulfillment, but its little daily victories can be seen even in those who are still making their earthly pilgrimage. It is one of the beauties of community life that we are all seeking the same goal together, so the graces bestowed on one Sister can be the joy of us all!