Promise of Home
Liberal Sexual Ethics

Empowered by Love

Empowered by Love

Song of Solomon 2:8-15

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

24 March 2024

               One of the fun aspects of my work life the last few years has been the Millennial young women on staff who have opened my horizons to new things.  For example, in the ups and downs of my adventures in dating, Lizzie Patterson will send me helpful playlists of Taylor Swift songs.  So, as I’ve been working on this Lenten sermon series on love, I thought she might have some good recommendations, and she did.  Thanks Lizzie for the soundtrack of my sermon preparation.

            The song that resonated with this week’s sermon isn’t a Taylor Swift song, but is instead a Ben Rector song that Lizzie said “always makes me happy.” The song is “Forever Like That” and begins:

Well, I'll be your rainy day lover
Whenever the sunny days end
And whatever the weather we have each other
And that's how the story will end

Well, I'll be your shade tree in summer
If you'll be my fire when it's cold
And whatever the season
Well, we'll keep on breathing
'Cause we'll have each other to hold
And I'll hold you and I'll sing

Well, I wanna love you forever, I do
I wanna spend all of my days with you
I'll carry your burden and be the wind at your back
I wanna spend my forever
Forever like that

            Love songs are some of our favorite songs.  They resonate with our emotions.  They also themselves become part of our life stories, as they were the songs we were listening to at significant moments in our lives.  Sometimes they help us make sense of what we are feeling.  Putting words to the emotions.  Giving us a mantra to repeat over and over.

            A song like this one expresses the power we experiences in our deepest connections.  We feel our full selves to be awakened, even as we are being attentive to the fullness of another person.  bell hooks writes that in true love “individuals . . . feel in touch with each other’s core identity.  Embarking on such a relationship is frightening precisely because we feel there is no place to hide.  We are known.”

            And what happens when we experience this intoxicating revelation?  hooks says, “All the ecstasy that we feel emerges as this love nurtures us and challenges us to grow and transform.”  True love both reveals our full authentic self and empowers and encourages us to grow and transform.  Here’s bell hooks again:  “True love accepts the person who now is without qualifications, but with a sincere and unwavering commitment to help him to achieve his goals of self-unfoldment.”

            One of the delights of our scriptural tradition is that the Bible includes the Song of Solomon, an unparalleled explosion of erotic poetry.  That has long resisted all efforts to allegorize it to mean something other than the clear initial meaning that can cause us to blush.  Its presence in the canon is a delight, but still a surprise.  What is it doing here?

            I recently read a wonderful book on the formation of the Hebrew Scriptures entitled Why the Bible Began by the professor Jacob L. Wright.  He contends that late in the history of the development of the Hebrew religion, after all the experiences of trauma, exile, and restoration, the focus turned to how ordinary people should respond to all this religious history.  Interestingly he places the Book of Esther as the culmination of this exercise, and I plan to teach an adult ed series on Wright’s book sometime this summer. 

            He contends that the Song of Songs is there to teach us that we aren’t self-sufficient.  That the only way to develop fully is in partnership and collaboration.  That we need each other to heal the traumas of human suffering.  Also that this truth of our personal lives is true in our collective lives.  Society can’t function without loving and nurturing personal relationships.  That should create loving and healthy families.  That can then hopefully come together to create loving and healthy and nurturing societies.  Wright states, “The Song of Songs celebrates the construction of this collaborative self and the kind of partnership that is essential to human flourishing.”

            That this Song is about the healing power of love is echoed in the work of the excellent Old Testament scholar Ellen Davis, who writes of this book, that it invites us to play with its meanings and to immerse ourselves in the experience of love so that we might “envision that the deep wounds that have plagued human existence almost from the beginning might yet be healed.”

            The nineteenth century Russian thinker Vladimir Solovyov contended that what was needed to heal humanity was more love, particularly erotic love.  That kind of love can heal us, and can teach us about the sort of human unity that we should strive for socially and politically.  He wrote, “The relation of the one to the other would be a complete and continual exchange, a complete and continual affirmation of oneself in the other, with perfect reciprocity and communion.”  True love at its best teaches us about joy, mutuality, and communion.  It encourages and empowers us to grow and become our best selves. 

            So, this Lent we’ve been exploring the new account of Love developed by the philosopher Simon May.  Who describes love as our joyful response to the promise of feeling rooted.  And that this experience has four facets—love makes us feel alive, that we are at home, that we are empowered, and it calls us to a new self.  Today we are focused on that third idea, how love empowers us.  Here is May’s handy description:

We feel that [the person we love possesses] decisive power to deepen our sense of existing—power to intensify the reality and vitality, and therefore the validity, of our existence, as we experience it.  This is the power—a power that at the limit feels like one of life and death—by which love is always inspired and to which it is unfailingly attracted.

            How have you experienced love as empowering?  As intensifying reality?  As deepening your sense of existing?  Listen to a few love songs, like the one from Ben Rector, or the one in the Bible, and these aspects of love are paramount.

            Simon May writes that this is one reason heartbreak is so devastating, which you can also learn by listen to break-up songs.  May writes that losing this feeling of being empowered “can plunge us into a living death.”  Almost a loss of our sense of being. 

            When I was a youth minister, one of the aspects of pastoral care for teenagers is the depth of heartbreak they feel at the loss of a first love.  It devastates them.  As if the world is coming to an end.  And the world is coming to an end for them in an important way.  Because a first love is an experience of someone who we can be our full selves with for the first time, reveal deep secrets about ourself, find the embrace of our authenticity, and then this exhilarating rush of empowerment.  So when that ends for the first time in our lives, it is crushing.

            How have you experienced this side of love as well?  Sometimes seeing the experience from the other side reveals how powerful the feeling really is. 

            Simon May’s understanding of love as the joyful response to the feeling of being rooted isn’t limited though to our romantic loves.  He believes this is our experience of love in all its facets—in family, friendship, even the love of God.  And over the last few weeks we’ve touched on these loves as well.  In our relationship with God, we can feel empowered, a deepening of our sense of existence, a renewed vitality.  Our closest friendships make us feel that way too.  My best friend Robyn is currently living at my house as she goes through a divorce.  And we are cherishing this time to grow even closer.

            One idea we haven’t explored yet, but that is central to Simon May’s new understanding of love, is that Western culture is going through a shift in its understanding of the supreme object of love.  The paradigm love has been romantic love for a few centuries now, but he says in the twenty-first century the trend is clearly toward parental love being the supreme form of love.  Excelling as a parent is now one of the most important life goals and viewed as essential to human flourishing by a wide segment of society.

            Obviously this idea has resonated deeply with me and my own experience of love.  As my romantic relationship ended and no other has arisen to take its place, the supreme object of my love has been my son.  And the role of Dad has been the richest, most rewarding part of my life.  Being a father deepens my sense of existence, fills me with vitality, empowers and encourages me to be my best self. 

            We all have different life stories.  Love comes to us in various forms, in various relationships.  Maybe it’s our best friend.  Maybe we find it in romance.  Maybe we experience it from our parents or in being a parent. Maybe our richest, most empowering love is in our religious experience.  Maybe it is in our artistic expression—music or dance or painting.  Maybe the love that empowers us is in our work or service for others.  You can imagine a teacher, for example, who finds the most empowering love in the children she nurtures. 

            The God who is love has given us a great gift.  Love is the source of joy and delight.  Love heals and transforms.  Love opens us up, expanding our horizons.  Love embraces our authentic selves and encourages our growth and transformation. 

            As we head into this Holy Week, preparing to experience the Passion of Christ and awaiting Resurrection, may we be empowered by love.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)