Sunday, September 9, 2018

Come with me - A Sermon on the Song of Songs

Sermon – Come with me[1]
St. Clare’s Church
September 2, 2018
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 17
Song of Solomon 2:8-17 (note the 4 additional verses plz!)
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
James 1:17-27 (10:00 am service only)
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Dedication verse of prayer:
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.[2]  Amen.

"Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come"

Oh, to write such words as these. … 
As some of you know I teach information science in the context of disasters and management. It is not yet been two years at the university. I began as a young theologian; an unlikely beginning for what followed. For 40 years, I was immersed in the practice of technology, and the last 17 of those working for humanitarian organizations.  But for over 50 years I've also been a writer, ever since an 8th grade English teacher said, "we are now going to write poems,” and we were terrified. 
So, I approach the poetry of our text from a variety of perspectives, but perhaps most as a graying poet among the faithful.

1) The call of lovers                                         

The Song of Solomon or Song of Songs is often read at weddings.  It is foremost about the passion of lovers, and it's in a sacred text.  What's not to like? 
Since God, religion and ethics are not mentioned, its position in the Jewish canon was disputed for many years, until settled in the 1st century. It was then that the religious meaning became an allegory of the love of God for his people, Israel, that was read during Passover, in the springtime.   The Christians adopted the allegory but saw it as the love of Christ for His Church.[3]
Well, doesn't that just get your blood pumping?
The poet and scholar, Edward Hirsch, says this is the "greatest love poem ever written" filled with "extravagant comparisons.” [4]  I love the richness in the phrase "extravagant comparisons."
Sometimes we grasp at such comparisons to the world around us to speak of things ineffable –of love and the holy.  But it is also the reality that it is familiar, it is near, woven into our reality as the God who comes to us.  The poet-writer of the Song of Songs gathers all that is within her reach to describe the natural joy of love. 
If you ask an eight-year-old child to count the animals in the poem they may find five, and the older child may name the five flora and the five landscapes.  There is song, and the voice of birds; the fragrance of blossoms.  
(I want to pause here and pay homage to the tapestries that now grace and frame the cross at St. Clare’s; here there are trees, valleys, fruit and flowers, just as are in the poem.  If ever a poem and a work of art sang harmony, it is today’s text and these tapestries.)
The poem is steeped in the familiar.  We are immersed in the senses.  It is almost as if the author is seeking to bring all that is about, that is before us, to the task of comparing, of metaphor,
One of the games I'd play with my son is stretching my arms out and saying, "I love you this much."  To which he'd point to the ceiling and say, "I love you that much" "I love you more than the whole world," I'd expand; and he'd reply, "I love you to the moon and back."  You get the picture. Each time, we'd try to reach further to describe how big our love is.  I sometimes wonder if God was doing some of that when, with the creative expansiveness of the universe, He said, "Let there be light!"
The poet speaks like this.  "Come away with me," beyond all the things you see living and not.  He speaks of love in all these familiar nouns, and more than them.  Love is at the same time the great "Other," beyond; and the One who is familiar, near.  We are called to both.  How can we speak of such things without metaphors, of things familiar?
I often write poems in cards I give to Shirley.  They start with a painting or photo on the cover.  For one of our wedding poems, the painting on the card was by Lynn Tait, of two chairs outside an old farmhouse with blue shutters, from a place in Greece near where we honeymooned. The chairs have become a metaphor for how we connect with each other.  Allow the common elements to speak…  

Two Chairs[5]
We may look at these two chairs
that face us as empty,
sitting outside this rugged house
with the closed blue shutter
and stucco falling from the field stone,
but I see all the conversations
that have not yet happened,
the laughter that has not yet
rung out across this path,
the glance that comes
before the kiss;
what has been behind this window
tied shut with a bit of straw
has been,
and what is yet to come
cannot be kept within these walls;
come sit with me
and start a story
as if it were tomorrow,
and I will dream with you.

2) The call of God

What if God were speaking in the Song of Songs. "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away."  This is the call of the lover that is also the call of God.  How do we approach such words?
M. Scott Peck talks about the God who pursues us as a lover; like the famous poem the Hound of Heaven, "He chases us with a vigor that is matched only by the vigor with which we may flee from Him.[6]" A God who chases us!
There is a wonderful scene in Franco Zeffirelli 's Jesus of Nazareth, where Jesus is calling one of the disciples to follow him, and the reaction is not one of adulation but of frustration and exasperation... “What does he expect me to do?[7]”  Yet still Jesus pursues him… 
Again we hear, “Come away with me.”  
Is this not His call to us also?  …But here is the paradox, we are called to action in the world. In the here and now.  This is the familiar context of the poem; Christ's love is compared to the flowers, fig tree, vines in blossom, lilies-- all of the things that are near to us.  This is not a call to flee, but to be fully present.
My mother sends me a birthday card each year where she underlines some words in the card, sometimes three times, with exclamation points, to add her emphasis. I am grateful she read the card that closely. It is a bit more personal, and I look forward to receiving it.
I sometimes wish the Bible’s authors would underline a word or two. What does it mean?  Or are we called, like the lovers in the Song of Songs, to just let it be, let it wash over us and simply ask what comes to me in this poem?

3) The call to home

If this poem is about the lovers and about God's love for us, is also a call to home.  "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away"
Coming home has many meanings, for lovers, for family reunions, for pilgrimages.  Ultimately it is about the end of time as we know it.  We say "he was called home" when a loved one dies. It’s a euphemism, indeed; but it also reflects the deeper meaning in the poem.  
A group of my students are studying how refugees communicate and use the Internet.  We have spent much time talking about what it must be like to be a refugee.  What information we would hunger for if we were a refugee.  On a deeper level, we may think “this could be us.”  And we would be right.  We are all refugees in a very real sense, and we long to be home.  It was Pascal who said “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each [of us],”[8] one that can only be satisfied by our Creator. The One who calls us home.

All this has hope and possibility with the art of poetry.  Sometimes intended, sometimes appropriated, but here we are; we come with the expectation that God will call and we will hear his voice, now, with our loved ones, and in the poetry of the words and blessings we say and sing as we worship this day.
This is the mystery of the Song of Songs: The One who calls us home is the One who pursues us here and now, like a lover who yearns for her mate.
May it be so for each of us.
The priest, who assisted at our wedding, always ends with this blessing, which is always a joyful reminder:

“Life is short.
We don't have much time to gladden the hearts
of those who walk this way with us.
So, be swift to love
and make haste to be kind."[9]


Edward G. Happ

[1] A page of poems and writings I considered while writing this reflection, may be found on my poetry Blog, here: and in the footnotes of this document.
[2] Ecclesiastes 3:11, New International Version (NIV)
[3] The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, 1971, p. 324f
[4] Edward Hirsch, How to Read a Poem, and Fall in Love with Poetry, 1999, p. 108.
[5] Lynn Tait, "Santorini, Two Chairs", The Lynn Tait Gallery, Essex, UK, 2010; poem by EG Happ, 18 Dec 13; the artist’s photo is here:
[6] M. Scott Peck, Further Along the Road Less Traveled, 1993, pp. 230-231.
[7] Franco Zeffirelli, Jesus of Nazareth, TV Mini-Series (1977),

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Poems for Sundays


Then there is the hummingbird,
 the newest visitor to our kitchen window feeder. 
They are in another time zone altogether.  
Before I finish saying hello, they’ve recited the daily news, 
downed two cups of coffee and are off to the office.  
Everything seems to be accelerating for them. 
Perhaps that is like getting older, 
but in a ways we may not expect.  
We seem to slow down in many ways as we age.  
We don’t move or think as fast; 
we take turns on the road more deliberately,
as if the cues need to catch up in our minds 
before we can act on them.  
My father liked to say, 
“I don’t know why they call these the Golden years; 
they’re more like the rust years.”  
In all these ways, we are not the hummingbird.  

But something that does seem to speed up 
as we get older 
is time.  
Whole seasons seem to fly by.  
In the morning mirror, we age before our eyes, 
like the fast motion videos of flowers blooming
and fading in minutes. 
"when did all that grey happen," we mutter.  

The little bundle of frenetic, humming energy 
is challenging us to slow down 
in ways that are coming alive 
rather than getting busy with dying.  
To delight in the grace of a divine visit, 
that pauses for only a sip of time, 
that is the poem of the hummingbird.

11 Aug 18


The following poems were referenced or alluded to in a theological reflection, "Come with me," for a Sunday Mass, Labor day Weekend, 2018. --E.G. Happ 

For the Song of Solomon, Ch. 2:8-17

Two Chairs

Lynn Tait, "Santorini, Two Chairs"

We may look at these two chairs
that face us as empty,
sitting outside this rugged house
with the closed blue shutter
and stucco falling from the field stone,
but I see all the conversations
that have not yet happened,
the laughter that has not yet
rung out across this path,
the glance that comes
before the kiss;
what has been behind this window
tied shut with a bit of straw
has been,
and what is yet to come
cannot be kept within these walls;
come sit with me
and start a story
as if it were tomorrow,
and I will dream with you.

To the Bride, for Christmas, 2013

Ode to M. Fagan

you stood behind
the gray metal
Steelcase desk,
one shoulder turned
to the chalk board,
holding a fledgling poem.
with the eyes of Osirus
and the mouth
of the great I Am
you read silently.
the young author
barely a teen
stood uncomfortably
on the other side,
her heart stretched
like a silver moth on
the sheet wet with the ink
of a fresh cut yellow
bud from a spring garden
"oh this is deep, really deep,"
you said with a smack
of the lips
and a dance of the eyes.
her heart beat faster
the ink flowed, the wings
folded and stretched
the bud opened
and called out her name.

6 Oct 95

May be a gazelle

She stares at me
ears homed on my breathing
this may be a gazelle
paused in mid chew
by my coming over the rise;
I have caused a ripple in time
and she must decide to run on
or welcome me;
and though we have both stopped
for this brief moment
there will be a step taken,
then she will bolt
back to the safe unseeing
of the forest;
I will bow my head,
and drink in the dappled air

11 May 18


“The name impala comes from the Zulu language meaning Gazelle”  

Scarborough Fair

Simon and Garfunkel are asking
the same question almost three decades
after I first
bought the album and sheet music

I can feel the guitar in my arms
my fingers on the strings connected
to notes I pressed into the rosewood
as leaves in a book
"Are you going to Scarborough Fair?"

The melody is a time machine
tossing me back through the years at once.
I am driving
down the highway to my boyhood home.

The road is still the same though the stores
along the way have changed names and hands
or been replaced
like the fields and woods once in between

One town and the next now run from sign
to sign, and never seem to begin
or ever end
home has spread like the years in between.

The Hills market where I worked in school
is now a discount computer store
Hills is no more.
rows of corn flake cartons now software.
"Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme."

The gen'ral hospital has changed names
Church tulip garden has gone to shrubs
nursery greenhouse
now a post office with new zip code

Soon within a mile of the driveway
I felt like geese must feel when the spring
time flight draws to a close,
slowing down, circling, landing in ponds.

When we moved in, trees were only twigs
Between two stakes that were chaperons
holding up the lad
like the first night I had too much beer.

The wood houses did not fare as well
they were small as if rain had shrunk them
like old sweaters
accidentally tossed into the wash.
"Remember me to the one who lived there."

It was on the corner, diff'rent color
three or four skylights poked in the roof
new wood siding
with the deco mail box built to match.

I remember much more land and lawn,
'specially in fishing season when
I was mowing
against the Saturday morning clock.

Bicycles scattered in front of the garage
not a child in sight, strangely quiet
a photograph
with yellow edges they tried to change.
"She once was a true love of mine."

1 May 94

Others' related poems and writings:
  1. Billy Collins, "Workshop,"
  2. Billy Collins, “Introduction to Poetry,”
  3. Cummings, “The Hound of Heaven: a Study Guide,”
  4. Barbara Crafton, "Death in the Small Basket," Mar. 25, 2015, (see 09:30 - 12:36 in the video)

Roots Below

The book jacket said
his poems were accessible,
not the obscure words
and images that dot the fringes
of intelligence and madness.
but the common words,
the ones we might use
to tell a family story,
or what happened
in the movie we saw last night.
It's not surprising
that Emmanuel was often found
in the midst of sinners,
probably drinking a glass
of non-vintage table wine.
no doubt this incensed
the learned folks of the day,
the guardians of the secret knowledge
that takes years of study
to travel to the outer reaches
of logic and appreciation,
finally reaching the holy of holies.
But this cup, this vessel,
stained with fingerprints
sitting on the picnic table
of the local pub,
was more apt to quench
the thirst of the gardener.
If the words of the poet
reach you in such a place,
God speaks with His arm
wrapped around your shoulder,
slaps you on the back,
and whispers a word more divine
than all the mysteries of heaven.

3 July 93 


She was a colleague 
and we thought it 
the right thing to do 
to come sit with her.
It had been a long illness
and she kept it from us,
as the modest
discretionary thing to do;
but now we sat in a row 
on either side of her;
there was no casket
just a blanket
or dusky sheet-- we did not touch
and what lay beneath 
was accented 
by arms up and a knee crooked 
as if a bent tent pole
as if the sheet were lain
on the body still falling
from some window
or cliff.
the rabbi who did not know him
said a few kind words
and we touched her shoulder
in soft earth tones.
I remember all of this
after reading three
mournful August poems
that took me back;
and anxious to turn the page
before anything hit
the ground.

24 Jun 18


She had her fingers deep

into the dough of life,
the yeast of living;
and live she did,
inviting all 
to gather round her table 
and home;
here we would come
to celebrate a birthday 
share a meal
bake with the master;
learn that the bread
to be bread
must be given away.
Though the oven is now bare
and the light has gone out,
the taste of presence 
from her hands
to our mouths
goes on in the food
that whenever 
the aroma of living 
she is among us,
fingers deep in the dough
soon to be 
given away.

24 May 18

For Diane Faxon, who died this week.

This poem took a while to come together.   I kept thinking of the birthdays gathering Diane hosted in the spring of 2012, and the aromas from her oven when I walked in thru the sliding glass door of her kitchen.  She was as busy as ever, creating the feast, yet still the gracious host, smiling and laughing with each one who arrived with food or wine and gathered about her island.  She was so much more than this vignette.  And yet, this is the memory that rose up thinking about her.

The Soil of Heaven

He was found
backing up
to the earthen door
of life's common experiences
and listening
to the whispers just inside,
these were voices
of the Angels' song
and he was thirsty
for the Holy sound.

29 May 95

All poems © Copyright 2018, E. G. Happ, All Rights Reserved