Sunday, 7 October 2007

Upon my bed at night I sought him whom my soul loves

Upon my bed at night I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer.
‘I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.’ I sought him, but found him not.
Song of Songs 3. 1-2

We went to church this morning at St Gervais in the centre of Geneva. It was like re-integrating normal life after the writing of the PhD. Sundays in recent months have been spent writing, proof-reading and checking references. Unexpectedly we also met quite a number of people we knew at the service, including people from Versoix where we normally go.
This morning's service was very beautiful, based around music written by Dietrich Buxtehude for words from the Song of Songs, which is one of my favourite books in the Bible. Perhaps appropriately one of the violinists was even called Erös! The music - apart from some dreadful congregational singing of a horrid Genevan setting of Psalm 63 - was very lovely. And every word that Francine Carillo said was almost perfect, the meditation was extremely poetic but also had a profound message about searching for God in emptiness.
The wonderful thing about going to church and not having any responsibilities for worship is being able to let go, to think, to pray, to enjoy, to listen. After five years of not being in pastoral charge I still love receiving from worship others have put effort into.
I did wonder of course afterwards - how much does poetry actually speak to us? How earthed is poetic language? Especially as the Song of Songs is a very earthy book, or at the very least a celebration of sensuality. Janet Morley in Bread of Tomorrow tries to confront the northern tendancy for poetry in liturgy with more concrete liturgies from the global south, resurrection in the south is real, in the north the only way we seem to find of talking about it is poetically.
Listening to the very beautifully crafted words of this morning's meditation I also remembered the first sermon I preached on this text which was in German and certainly less beautifully crafted. I preached it in former East Germany in front of students like me studying for the ministry. Several of them came up to me afterwards and said they had enjoyed the sermon but they didn't think that such a sermon would be possible in for them because of the historico-critical method in biblical interpretation, perhaps this hadn't yet reached England? Nothing like being told it was a great sermon but useless exegesis - especially when you've sweated for hours over all that German grammar. Should a feminist theologian who is trying to translate the English thought "God is our lover" use the German Liebhaber (male lover) or Liebhaberin (female lover)? Not surprisingly I never did get around to telling my professors in Oxford of this particular humiliation!