Song of Songs 5

Classic rom com material here. When telling a story of love there has to be incident. Misunderstandings, mis-timings, love thwarted, gratification delayed.

Her beloved comes to her door as she lies in bed “asleep but with heart awake” and she has pause… Must she get up, put on robe and walk around getting dirty feet?

Something about him thrusting his fingers through the hole of the door latch however, makes her heart pound for him. We’re a few centuries before Freud, but even the usually reticent commentators observe that the original language has quite obvious double entendres at that point.

She gets up, but too late he’s gone. Queue yearning for love lost. She searches for him, and this time is assaulted, she beaten to the ground and her robe taken. Is it just me or echoes of Christ?

“What’s so special about this guy?” A chorus of friends asks. I visualise the “tell me more, tell me more…” refrain from Grease.

She responds with “hopelessly devoted to you”. A long section where she compares him with every wonderful thing on the planet. A phrase in that section “altogether lovely” got thrown into the middle of a classic Hillsong song “here I am to worship”.

It’s a cliche to mock overly romantic “Jesus is my boyfriend” Christian songs. I recently stumbled across a quiz where you had to guess whether phrases came from contemporary Christian songs or Fifty Shades of Grey. It was remarkably difficult.

The connection between romance, marriage, sex, and the love of God goes deep however, because I suppose God’s love is so great that every kind of love we experience is a glimpse, an aspect of it.

The description of marriage, two become one flesh, from Genesis is employed as an insight into the profound mystery of how Christ loved the church by St Paul. He plays with ideas of the separation of flesh and spirit within parts of Greek philosophy, but this older text, proudly taking it’s place in the canon of scripture begs to differ.

The desires of the flesh can enslave us, for sure, we see it everywhere. But God’s abundant blessing overflows to the pleasures of this life, and they are part of our experience of his love.

The yearning, the pounding hearts, the extravagant appreciation of another, the intensity of passion. It is all of, and from, God, and it’s wonderful. And I’ve lost quite a bit of it.

May I be mindful, may I be joyful, and appreciate the wonderful women I have to share my life with – couldn’t imagine someone better for me, that’s for real. We’re both surviving ATM. She’s under more pressure than me. The stoic times can chip away the joy. But when it ends, let it end, not become the normal.

50 Shades of Grey or Contemporary Christian Music Lyrics? A Quiz

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Song of Songs 1

A supercut of us.

I’ve had a week off. Haven’t quite been able to face this book, though in abstract I’ve been looking forward to it.

I’m feeling somewhat burdened, old and unromantic, so the celebration of passionate young love is a poignant contrast to my mood. A little intimidating, to be honest.

I gather the book has no discernable structure. But neither does love, in the moment. I like Lorde’s song “supercut” for that, “in my mind, I see a supercut of us”. The highlights of love are recalled as a montage of flashing glory. If you edit out narratives of pain, boredom.

Chapter one sets the tone of focusing on the moments of delight, yearning and passion. It’s wild and uninhibited.

It has dialogue like a play: he, she and friends, but there is not debate, all are goading each other headlong towards an affair. The banter is rhetorical: why would you waste a passion such as this on timidity?

It seems like first love, but the girl is not a glashouse flower. She’s been a responsible family workhorse, tanned from the sun from tending the vineyards. It’s set up as a metaphor, now is time to tend her own vineyard, her time to harvest her own pleasure. A bit of ‘me’ time.

She is the pursuer, getting advice from the chorus of friends where to find her love. And she’s successful, if I understand the phrase “our bed is verdant” correctly.

Though could also be literal vegetation as well and the bed a metaphor, since it ends with the cedars and fir trees being their room.

God, apparently, will barely get a look in, by name. But the context, the Bible, forces it to be about the spirituality of passion and attraction.

God gave us all this. I’ve been reading my sister in law’s memoir of growing up and escaping her rule bound, relentlessly negative evangelical faith. This book wasn’t in her Bible, surely?

Has mine lost it too? What gave me pause?

Father, help me find passion and joy around me

Psalm 116

This psalm contains the first verse ever preached on Australian soil, by Rev Richard Johnson, fresh off the first fleet of convicts to arrive in Australia.

What shall I render to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

I’m not sure what the convicts made of the reference to God’s goodness, criminals on the other side of the world permanently separated from all they knew. At least they were alive, they had survived the trip.

At the conference on treaty last week at our church, pastor uncle Ray Minniecon told us to think carefully about the verse and read this psalm, in the context of the interest we had expressed in hearing about the cause of treaty.

Johnson was apparently a sensitive man. I don’t know much about him. He and his wife were friendly to the natives – they gave their daughter an Aboriginal name, Milbah. It was however the start of great trauma that nearly wiped out the Aboriginal race and smashed their elaborate and astoundingly ancient culture.

230 years later, shamefully, there is still no formal agreement over the land. They are now at least counted and vote as humans, not just part of the flora and fauna (since 1967) and the courts have recognised their original ownership of the land (Mabo decision, 1984). But they are asking us for a treaty, and so far we’ve said no.

The title to all our Christian churches still goes back to the moment when, without the inhabitant’s consent, Captain Cook planted the union Jack and claimed Australia for the King. It’s land taken without consent, still, and the practical effects of the trauma significantly impacts Aboriginal lives.

The narrative of the psalm starts with praise of God’s rescue from crisis. From impending death; from tears, trouble and sorrow.

I think back on my own hard times, and the Lord has been there. Through deaths of family members, lost jobs, financial strains, times I felt brought very low. Not as low as the psalmist I’m guessing, but low. Sometimes I’ve felt active guidance, at other times, comfort and peace.

Then comes the verse I quoted, about what I can give back. And the first thing you can give God when you accept he has been guiding your life is to receive more from him: salvation.

The commentators remind us to recall that Jesus probably sang this directly before going to the garden of Gethsemane, and praying that if there was any way, he’d rather not drink the cup of salvation. But that God’s will should be done.

Then the psalm goes on to talk of a life of grace and obedience in response to God’s saving presence, keeping your vows, accepting that you are God’s child, not his servant, valuing your life and death as much as God does.

What we give to God in gratitude for his redemption is to receive the revelation of his mind, trust his promises and act on them. Humble acceptance is a strange service, but it’s what God wants from us.

And it’s critical to a treaty between the first and later possessors of this land. Us, the later being truthful, and humble, accepting from the first the land we already took, and accepting forgiveness for taking it. We’re finding it harder than it sounds like it should be, given what a passive service it is to render.

Psalm 113

These all seem to be special purpose or novelty type Psalms. The next group, 113-118 were a set sung at Passover. Jesus would have sung them at the last supper, most likely. We just had two acrostic alphabet Psalms, and Psalm 119 will be the super long one that has a whole stanza per letter of the alphabet… The longest chapter in the Bible.

It’s an appropriate way to kick off passover because it’s praising that God lifts up the lowly.

Praise him: who? The lord. His servants, his name: praise.

Praise him for: who he is. Psalm 8 moment… He’s so big, above the stars, and he’s so loving he has to stoop down just to see heaven and earth, to think of us.

We’re told of the emotion Jesus felt on the night he was betrayed. To think he’d probably sung this. How low must I stoop?

Praise him for: what he does. God stoops down, and lifts up the poor and the needy, the most vulnerable. The miserable slaves in Egypt….

He makes them Princes.

He makes childless women happy mothers, settled in their home.

It reminds you that’s he did literally do that for Rachel, Elizabeth. It’s a sign of blessing about to be poured out.

The world remains a mixture of crappy and wonderful, with a lot of meh besides. Are these things God does happening? On some metaphorical spiritual level? Or literally?

Well was the rescue from Egypt practical salvation of a group of slaves or part of a plan to free the world from the grip of sin? Both.

When Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick, was it because they were hungry and sick, or to show he was Messiah? Worked both ways.

This praise is the Bible’s promise of optimism, that things should be right, and will be. God is inherently abundant, caring, and strong enough to deliver on these. It a message to shout and a way to live.

Believe it, proclaim it by praising him all day and all night, and live it by doing what you can for the poor and needy in any dimension of those terms.

We won’t and can’t fix all the problems, Jesus didn’t try to feed all the poor, but it has this context of praise, of telling a great truth about the nature and existence of God, of hope that makes it work on multiple levels.

There’s a good start to the day. At work I’m busy, on stuff I’m glad to be doing, and that I’m not necessarily up to doing, it challenges some of my weak spots. I’m feeling keen!

Psalm 104

A Psalm praising God the creator. It follows the order of genesis, so it’s like a response in song.

It’s also reminiscent of Job – it even mentions his mythical scary water-dwelling beast, symbol of how much less we are in control than God: leviathan.

I was a bit “yada yada” despite the glorious imagery of the Lord clothing himself in light and creating the verdant earth out of the chaos of moving waters, having recently read Job which, at 40 chapters has a more powerful cumulative poetic effect and similar imagery.

But this Psalm is to be cherished as a quick access to such a relatable image of god’s glory. It reminded me somewhat of the song “how great thou art”, where the singer wanders the forest glades and can’t help bursting into praise of God.

They read it every day in Jewish services, according to Wikipedia. Apparently Bob Marley used to cite it as supporting marijuana use, which I can’t 100% see… But I was struck by the praise of God for making “wine that gladdens the heart” so I suppose it’s recognising mood altering substances as a legitimate good part of god’s creation.

That’s a bit of an issue at work because the salvation army are tea totallers. I really don’t want to do that, and I’m under no pressure to in my private life, though fair enough no drink during work hours.

It’s a legitimate life choice like vegetarianism, and I think it is part of the trust people have in the salvos, the thought of a tipsy officer is shocking to me now. Plus it makes it a safe place for recovering alcoholics.

I live a very urban life quite disconnected from nature. Though I delight in birds, my dog, and parks. Possums too.

This Psalm reserves a special place for animals, it’s a theology of them. They are evidence of god’s ongoing creation. Wild animals live and die, provided for by God, and we never see them. The sea, teeming with creatures, some vast in size, gives insight into the mind-blowing detail and scale of god’s abundant, joyous creativity..

They eat because of God, their fears and satisfaction are at his whim, they die in his time. Their existence flows from his spirit and they are sustained, renewed by his provision.

Gosh, I’ll praise God myself in a minute! Lord of life, I am because of you, you are truly amazing!

Proverbs 15

Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honour.

Humility is a hard lesson, we love honour.

It seems each chapter has one famous proverb at the moment. This one has:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,but a harsh word stirs up anger.

But really there are a gazilion that say similar. In fact, you do get this constant nag about it that fiery people would find quite frustrating.

Sometimes it’s good to be fiery. Jesus called the religious leaders a “nest of vipers”. I suppose the key there is that he wanted to stir up anger. It was calculated.

It’s not necessarily saying don’t do it, more don’t be surprised.

I’ve been thinking about whether proverbs encourages a particular somewhat supercilious attitude that is annoyingly always above the fray. Would the proverbs person be much fun? I don’t think I’ve found one praising fun.

But perhaps the answer is in the oppositional characteristics it pairs with them. Take:

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.

The opposite of soothing is perverse. You could adopt quite a fun tone in the way of being soothing and still be not perverse.

I like the ones that talk about God being aware. This one’s a little scary until you remember God’s love:

Death and Destruction lie open before the Lordhow much more do human hearts!

This book seems as much to be about how deeply God understands our foolishness, as about us being wise.

I simply found these appealing and memorable:

Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.

I’m so happy at work, the paperwork came through for my permanent status yesterday. Exactly the same job, no promotion.

But that’s ok. Humility comes before honour, and a small serving of vegetables with love is better anyhow.

Proverbs 9

Ok I’ve had a break for a week and I’ve been a little down. Also focusing on music, though it’s too much of an escape, I need to keep it in check.

Down because of good news, really about work. It seems I will have a full time job, exactly the job I am doing now. Which will make permanent a stop gap job I went to a year ago.

The down side is that it doesn’t pay quite enough, so to carry on will require some careful belt tightening for the whole family. We only survived last year by dipping into savings.

So it’s a little sad not getting the more highly paid job that I had no expectation of getting …until they dangled it as an exciting possibility for over a month….

It will seem good soon. I’ve been praying about it, and there are many up sides.

Also it was really only yesterday that I heard it was real, is just been a quite likely outcome, so I’ve been very uncertain for some time now. The uncertainty has eaten me up a bit.

On Saturday I went to the Aboriginal service at church. The visiting pastor was quite Pentecostal. We wrote our hearts prayer requests on a sheet of paper and put them in a bowl that he and other ministers present prayed over and claimed the answer to.

I put in concern about the job and my kids, unsurprisingly. Sunday morning he was there and I thanked him, and he and his wife wound up praying over my job a second time.

Then Monday I heard about the job! And I’m ungrateful enough to feel prevarication about it. Perhaps the Lord is speaking to me, an uptight old Anglican, through this prayer bowl.

Another reason I’ve been down just this last day because I made an uncharacteristically harsh Facebook post, criticising the Anglican church and I feel a bit exposed.

They sold the archbishop’s palace an old Gothic pile that looks like Hogwarts, for $17 million and I read in the paper that they have commissioned one of Sydney’s smartest architecture firms to build a new ‘palace’ in glebe, where my church is, for $7.3 million.

I linked to the article and said ‘strikes me as obscene, and I’m in the club!’

I just thought, why not take the opportunity to make a very normal house for the archbishop? The second most extensive fancy house in glebe sold recently was $5 million, the average is $1.5m, to put it in perspective.

The comments shot back saying the new compound included a 200 seat hall that would be used for University work (it’s across the road from Sydney Uni), and extra accommodation that would be used for visiting missionaries or church dignitaries and that the article hasn’t taken all that into consideration.

The discussion was pretty civilised actually, at least.

But that was how it struck me in the moment of reading it, and I wanted to preserve that reaction. I knew if I spoke to people I would move back inside the churchy bubble where it made sense, But most of the world is outside the bubble.

I did doubt my wisdom in doing that though. I wonder if there wasn’t an element of feeling frustrated at being so long at the mercy of indecision over my job, feeling powerless. I don’t know.

Proverbs chapter 9 refers to two houses.

Wisdom’s house calls people in to food and wine, it appeals to the simple to leave their foolish ways and gain insight.

Folly also has a house, offering stolen food and drink, which promises to be more delicious, but which leads to death.

It’s easy to see it as the choice to avoid immorality, sexual as per the last few chapters, or dodgy ways to get money.

It’s also talking about whether your heart is seeking truth, moving towards God, or fighting truth, hardening your heart to God. That’s why it can talk about the way of the simple, those who go into folly’s house, as leading to death. The ultimate foolishness is rejecting God.

In the middle was a section that seemed to speak to my fears over Facebook. About not arguing with scoffers or rebuking mockers.

Basically not having pointless arguments where you dispute the views of people who hate God. It’s a dead end if it just hardens your opposition to each other.

Also describes a fair whack of Facebook. It’s just people stating their prejudices at each other and getting angry at others who don’t agree and never will. It’s not constructive.

And I wondered if I was foolish for attacking my own church in front of non Christian friends. I also got to stand up for my faith very publically. So it’s not a clear situation.

Out maybe it is, maybe I’m in folly’s house.

My pastor invited me to the pub for a drink on Thursday. I thought ‘how great’ but then I worried – is this about the Facebook post? His wife personal messaged me a contribution to the argument, so it’s in his radar. Time will tell.

So there’s my start-of-year joys and blues, wisdom and foolishness, certainty and mystery, all woven with proverbs in a long ramble.

At least now I can also start on concrete, optimistic planning elements of a new year.

Job 39

Parade of small mysteries.

Last chapter God went meta and mega: the stars, the start of time, the gates of death, the lowest depths, pouring out the sea and causing dawn to happen.

These mysteries were added to the mystery of Job’s own suffering.

Today God talks on the human scale, about things Job could conceivably understand. Man has dominion over the animals, right?

But even these things are outside Job’s comprehension or control.

Man can tame lions but not wild donkeys. Why? What sort of cosmic joke are the flightless wings of an ostrich, why did God do that? The reference to the ‘wild ox’ – now extinct – is a humorous image, like saying ‘why can’t you plough your fields with a hippopotamus?’ And so it goes.

It’s not the massive rebuke Job’s friends predicted God would have for him, nor does it directly address Job’s sense of injustice, as he craved.

These are gentle, delightful absurd teachings. The commentator suggested they represent the only humour in Job. Bringing a smile to his suffering face.

Even just that perspective is an implicit message… its not all about me.

While not answering directly Job’s questions, the oblique answer is that Job’s sense of injustice has misunderstood the rules by which the world works.

God isn’t angry or condemnatory about that, he expects it. He simply points it out in the gentlest sweetest way possible, and asks job to continue trusting him.

It goes right back to God and Satan’s disagreement over Job in the prologue. God says he’s an example of true wisdom, he fears God and shuns evil. The Devil says he is purely transactional, his ‘fear of God’ is only as deep as his love of the good things God has given him.

God’s teaching is bolstering his side of the case.

The lesson from the animals is two fold. Appreciate the limits of your own understanding. But also appreciate the God-like insight you have in being able to attain wisdom that animals never can.

They are indeed transactional, as the devil said man is. But we are made in God’s image. Job felt forgotten, but he’s cherished. In chapter 1 and 2, God actually brags about Job’s wisdom to Satan.

Man’s ability to attain wisdom means his conception of God is bigger than the source of his next meal. Job’s very tortured, complex heart is demonstration of that.

Job has gone further than most in understanding how little our own understanding can overcome evil, or reveal God. And God here leads him further again on that.

That Tim Minchin song I linked previously won’t stop rolling around in my head, showing how much I have in common with an atheist…

Family sharing white wine in the sun, the people who make you feel safe, his picture of heaven.

His jet-lagged baby daughter passed around ‘like a puppy at a primary school’ (makes me cry every time) …his picture of the infinite value of humanity.

We could both argue these values confirm the truth of our views, pushing us further apart when instead we share more than we think.

But God’s gentle refusal to buy into the paradigm of human logic and sense in this passage? There’s the rub!

Psalm 66

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!

A psalm about God’s salvation.

It makes you realise God was always preparing the world for Jesus being his salvation plan. Jesus isn’t in this Psalm, but he fits in like a light bulb in a socket.

It talks about global, national and personal salvation. It’s all to be praised.

So it tells the whole earth to shout for joy, praise God, see his wonderful deeds.

The deeds are what he’s done for Israel, the exodus.

Again it says all nations should praise God because he kept their (the Jews) feet from slipping, refined them by fire, bought them from prison into abundance.

God wasn’t just saving the Jews, he was showing the world what a saving God looks like, and showing where salvation would come from and how it works.

Then the writer tells of his own salvation, by offering sacrifices in the temple, and fulfilling his vows. It is an example for all those who fear the Lord, who don’t cherish sin in their heart. God will not withhold his love.

The message from Christians to Jewish people is flipped these days, the light has come And we’re saying to Jewish people, ‘come see the mighty works of his salvation’.

But there are weird hints in Romans and elsewhere that God’s plan for the nation of the chosen people are not over, and I mean, its all Jehovah. After reading the old testament for a few years straight now, I feel so close to Jewish people, and this the day after a horrific antisemitic massacre in the US.

Antisemitism is on the rise again, particularly in the US. They are claiming it is the worst attack on Jewish people ever on US soil.  And in the year leading up to the attack, antisemitic incidents are up 57% I read on the weekend.

Wow, I think I’ve been in shock, not letting it sink in. But the thought of that while reading the psalm is like being thrown into trauma.

It is a horrible dark cast over the joy of this Psalm. Though there is pain in there already. ‘you let people ride over our heads, we went through fire and water’.

And I pray for God’s abundance, his mercy on those faithful Jewish people that were senselessly shot at a baby naming ceremony.

We told about what our witness should be in the Bible, how we are to live our lives. We are to live the gospel of Christ, we are to be prepared to give an account of what Christ has done for us, just as the writer here asks the whole earth to hear the promise of saving love he knows he has from the sacrifices in the temple.

Who’s in who’s out of heaven, of God’s eternal grace? Saved by the gospel I’m to live? I have absolutely no idea, and I don’t think I’m meant to.

I skimmed Paul’s discussion of Jews and Gentiles in Romans.  There is an extended metaphor of olive tree branches being cut, new ones grafted on and then old ones re-grafted, while some are never cut. That leads to: ‘for God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all’  after which he concludes ‘how inscrutable are God’s judgments and how unsearchable his ways’. Indeed.

I trust that God’s salvation will be just, full of grace, loving and abundant. That is the God this Jewish writer wants the whole earth to shout for joy at here, and I’m convinced. Though the water, through the fire. Through the most ghastly hate, horror and pain imaginable.

Psalm 65

This is a beautiful psalm. Its a praise psalm, but praising more what God does than who God is, and at the end it goes into wonderful tumbling raptures about the abundance and provision of nature.

It navigates the relationship between the chosen people and all people. God is God of all the earth, creator of all, blesses all, and all will come to him. But he finds specific praise and those who will keep vows to him in Zion, and they appreciate being blessed that way.

There is a creating/taming section and an abundance section.

They stand back in awe at the one who made and tamed mountains, roaring waters and nations. His power, size and eternal nature is a source of joy. I always think of the elation you feel when you go to an impressive lookout or see a big storm, or fly over lands.

But then it goes human scaled, the sweetness of abundant provision, of spring and harvest – spring is described as crowning the year. We sang a gorgeous anthem when I was young, set to these words.

I had a sense of the streams and creeks being like fingers of God’s blessing, spreading out life and gentleness over the earth, resulting in hills of gladness, covered in flocks and harvest carts overflowing with bounty.

Suits my mood, nicking off church to do – an admittedly self serving – DIY project.

Finally, after years, paving our backyard, in the happy anticipation of a summer of hospitality and enjoying meals outside in the warm evenings. Hashtag blessed!

Oh here is a vid of the anthem. I don’t think it’s the first time I’ve linked it, but it’s so sweet. Under 2 mins, just one verse of text, and the vid is of a slightly rough but keen choir… That was us. Visualise young me in the front row.

And the lines of polyphony, criss crossing melodies, remind me of those bright playful fingers of streams running though the hills and fields, the life blood of blessing.