On and off, for the past couple months, I have been digging into the Song of Songs. Random, right? No I’m not trying to spice up my sex life, and no I’m not looking for tips on marriage. Instead, I set my sites a little more narrowly.
For the last few months I’ve focused on the Shulammite woman, the main character of the Song. I began to notice her when I realized that, of all the books in the Bible, Song of Songs is the only book in which a woman is the dominant speaker. Her speech comprises about 53% of the book, the rest of the narrative belonging to her friends and her beloved.
In addition to her dominant voice, the Song grants us a wide window into her emotional self. Unlike any other female in Scripture, we are privy to numerous intimate thought processes–expressions of love, doubt, confidence, fear, and irresistible passion.
In many ways, the Song of Songs paints a rich picture of the female interior life. And yet, few Christians ever take the time to see her. All that language about legs and necks and breasts like fawns gets us a little distracted. By focusing on the sexual aspects of the Song, we miss the strong female character depicted within its verses.
So, over the last few months, I’ve made it my mission to see her. Who is this woman? And why is she in Scripture?
Sometimes it’s hard to answer that questions because the Song of Songs is poetry, and poetry can’t be pressed. Poetry is not meant to be surgically interpreted; it is meant to be felt, to be experienced. In that way, interpreting poetry is both a science and a delicate art.
There is still much I have to learn about this woman of the Song, but I want to share one thing about her that has given me so much freedom, and it is this:
The Shulammite woman is complicated.
She is not this or that.
She can’t be summed up in a sentence.
On the contrary, the Shulammite woman is ALL OVER THE MAP. One minute she’s bold, brash, confident. The next minute she is ashamed, fearful, doubtful. Throughout the Song we watch as she oscillates between conflicting poles of emotion.
Based on this depiction it would be easy to conclude the Shulammite woman is a total basket case, but I saw something rather different.
What I saw was myself.
On any given week–ok let’s get real, on any given DAY–my emotions can range all over. One minute I feel magical delight in my son.
A few hours later I get a nasty comment online and I feel like the worst writer in the history of the world. What am I doing with me life!? I wonder.
Then I get an encouraging e-mail from a friend, and I feel so much better.
Then I go to the gym and see all these women who are impossibly skinny and tan (in January), working out with their hair down and perfectly curled–who does that? why??–and I feel frumpy and gross.
And that’s pretty much my Monday.
I’m sure plenty of people think I am a confident woman, and they aren’t wrong. Sometimes I am confident. But not always. Many days I am insecure and fragile. There are some moments, many moments, when I don’t feel confident at all.
When I look at the emotional complexity depicted in the Song of Songs, I see a mirror for myself, and for the female experience. As much as I might want to adorn myself with a “quiet and gentle spirit” (1 Peter 3:4), I recognize more of myself in the woman of the Song. She is not always quiet, nor is she always gentle. She is complicated. Her interior life is kind of messy. But she is nevertheless beautiful–the apple of her beloved’s eye–and Christians have been celebrating her romance for centuries.
I don’t think the woman of the Song is prescriptive, not in the sense that we should model ourselves after her. However, her presence in Scripture does affirm the complexity of womanhood. None of us can fit into a cookie cutter mold. None of us can be summarized by any single label or character trait. God created us to be complicated, and He works through the complexity of our lives to create something beautiful.
So, if there is one lesson that I have drawn from the Song thus far, it is this:
Whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever kind of day you’ve had, there is a place for you in God’s story.
As crazy as your life seems, God can take the mess and turn it into something that others celebrate. He can use a complicated, emotional woman to affirm the goodness of love and marriage in the church, and He can mold something masterful out of your own complicated life.
That is one of the messages that the Song of Songs has for us. It presents us with a woman who is neither wholly sinner nor wholly saint–she is both, just like me.