Ash & I and our friend Ramon (Morphea’s honey) are working on a book of poetry and art inspired by the Book of Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon). Ancient erotic poetry is wildly popular, and there are no treatments of SOS out there that compete in this market; the previous efforts just aren’t sexy…which is the whole point of erotic poetry, right? (More on that in a minute…) SOS is chock-full of some serious sex, but the word pictures (mountains of myrrh, towers of David, frolicking gazelles) just don’t resonate now the way they did 3,000 years ago. Our idea is to work verse-by-verse and update the poetry into images that convey the same passion, desire and…ahem…eroticism.
The publishing company I work for is taking a look at it, and I’m working with my friend Alex, who is one of the acquisitions editors, on polishing the proposal so they just can’t say no. Alex is incredibly cool–we have an informal book club for sharing stuff we’re reading, and he has terrific taste in literature. He loves this project. The writing samples we’ve submitted along with Ramon’s artwork have totally set him on fire.
As we’ve worked together on the proposal, Alex has suggested that the book will be an easier sell in our uber-Christian publishing company if we do one of two things (for the record, he’s not suggesting we actually do either of these things, just that it will be easier to convince the bigwigs it’s a good idea if we do):
1) Do a straight-up paraphrase, a la Eugene Peterson’s The Message. If you click the link and read a few verses, I think you’ll agree this isn’t sexy.
2) Use imagery that emphasizes the school of biblical interpretation which holds that SOS can be read as a love song between Christ and his Bride, the Church. While this may be doctrinally acceptable (see below), it’s difficult to make this interpretation sexy without some serious ew-factor. (And honestly, the word pictures in the text itself don’t really lend themselves to this interpretation…does Jesus really want to pillow his head on the Church’s breasts? You decide.)
[By the way, we're taking neither option, because we want to do great art and because someone with taste and good sense will buy this thing...just maybe not my company.]
Anyway, back to erotic poetry and the sexiness thereof. I really struggle with the Church’s obsession with explaining away the lush eroticism of Song of Songs. It’s so two-faced. On one hand, we flap our hands and run around in circles, insisting that “No, no…we’re totally not anti-sex,” that sex is good and God-created and natural and fun. On the other, we impose this idea that poetry included in our sacred Book, written by a guy crazy in love and want and need and maybe lust with his wife is not really about sex at all…it’s about Jesus.
So which is it, kids? Is sex really good…so good that God would want a few pages in His Book dedicated to celebrating it in all its kinky glory? Or are we really gnostic at heart, believing this flesh should be reviled, and any references in the Bible to pleasing it while naked with our beloved must have some other, holier explanation?
I realize I’ve set up an unfair either/or scenario here that can’t contain the mystery of divine and human authorship of scripture. But I just get so pissed at our hypocrisy about the goodness of sexual intimacy…it’s no wonder many of us raised in the church develop facial tics every time the subject of sex comes up! Isn’t it obvious that God is a big fan of good, clean sexual pleasure and it’s okay for us to be, too?