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Call and Response – the Creative Love of God

Creative Spirit

Lo, the winter’s past.  For the rain is gone; the flowers appear.  Time of singing has begun–lark and turtledove.  Rise, then, come away, as the vines burst into blossom here, rich with fragrance, drenched with sun, shimmering with God’s love.

Today’s reading from the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs, reminds me of Patrick and my wedding, 22 years ago in June.  I can fondly recall the voice of my sister in law reading this very text:  ‘Arise my love, my fair one, and come away;”  It took place in Alaska, years before I would respond to God’s call to ordination.  How lovely, I thought, that our scripture includes singing and poems!

My studies of scripture and theology at seminary later taught me more about this book in Hebrew tradition.  Song of Songs is a collection of over 30 poems, and part of what is referred to as the “wisdom texts” of the Old Testament, including Proverbs, the Psalms and Job.  The unique dialogue, as between two lovers, uses forms familiar to ancient civilizations like Egypt and Mesopotamia, and metaphors from all of God’s creation in nature, to describe the relationship between human and divine.[1]  Whether seen as the relationship between God and the people of Israel, or between Christ and the Church, the energy portrays a process of relational love — a “call and response”, a dance, a process through which we continually connect and reconnect with God.  It cannot be fully understood with our head — with knowledge — but must be acted upon through the human heart.

Beautiful and fair, like a garden, our beloved’s face clustered henna, Sharon’s rose, radiant to our eyes.  Honey, milk and wine, fill our cups with overflowing grace, feed our souls where God bestows banquets of love’s surprise.

As a creative person, a romantic, a singer, I understand God best through what is called “process theology” — a way of finding God in the in-between places, in dynamics and relationships, rather than in authority and hierarchy.  The founder of this Process Theology was a man — Alfred North Whitehead, an English mathematician turned philosopher and physicist early in the 20th century.   Whitehead described God as “the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it, in a vision of truth, beauty and goodness.”[2]

In this theology, God does not demand, but rather entreats us:  lures us into the kind of life for which we are already longing, one of peace and equanimity.  In this relationship, God’s call hopes for a connection with us, and we are invited to respond. God the creator, the poet, calls forth in us our own natural creativity and imagination, which in turns helps us to continue to create a more beautiful and changing world.  This can cause tension, as our urge to control, to constrain, battles with God’s spirit of song.  Whitehead describes the tension this way: “There are two principles inherent in the nature of things .  . .”, he writes, “the spirit of change and the spirit of conservation.  There can be nothing real without them.” [3]

God speaks into that tension, and creates in it — in our stretching, aching, growing hearts — poetry, and song and the Scriptures.  When James, the brother of our Lord, writes to the early Christian churches, he is clearly torn between their Jewish traditions, and the call from Christ to become a new people.  In his diatribe, James pleads with early Jesus-followers to be “doers of the word and not merely hearers”; for them, and us, to act in response to the lure, the longing, the relationship with God.  In those actions, God creates a living tradition. 

Likewise, in today’s reading from the earliest Gospel according to Mark, we can see that “spirit of change” in the Apostles following Jesus, and the “spirit of conservation” in the Pharisees and elders of the Temple.  Using the prophetic, poetic writing of Isaiah, Jesus switches the focus of their disagreement from the law of the mind, to the passion of the heart.  One of the qualities we most associate with Jesus is his compassion, a word that literally means feeling with.  It doesn’t mean looking down upon, or “lording it over”, but rather being in passion with us.

Remember that nowhere do the Gospels say that “God is power”; rather they assert everywhere that “God is Love.”[4]  And real love is not coercive, it does not insist on its own way.  God offers love to us, and gives us the opportunity to respond to it, hoping that we’ll accept.  In Patrick and my 22 year marriage, we have been become dance partners, ever changing, connected in a dynamic tension.

A follower of Whitehead, ecologist John Cobb wrote about this relational theology in terms of freedom to create: “God-relatedness is (in) every . . . experience,” Cobb suggests, “This does not restrict (our) freedom . . (because) It is God who, by confronting the world with unrealized opportunities, opens up a space for freedom and self-creativity.”[5]

Friends:  with what unrealized opportunities is God confronting you, confronting St. James parish?  To what dance does God invite us?  How are we being called to participate in the relational love, to risk the adventure, to which God invites us?  What winter in the life of our parish must we let go of, in order to step with God into a rich, verdant and song-filled future?

Love is strong as death– yes and stronger yet, its frets of fire floods of waters cannot drown, neither quench its flame.  Burning still through tears, diamond prisms for our hearts’ desire, spread an arcing rainbow crown round the beloved’s name. 

And all of God’s lovers sang together, AMEN!

[1] New Interpreters’ Study Bible, pg. 954

[2] Keller, Catherine, On the Mystery, (2008:  Fortress Press, Minneapolis) pg. 100

[3] Ibid, pg. 4

[4] Keller, pg. 93

[5] Keller, pg. 21


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