Love is as strong as death and unyielding as the grave. It is not something to be indulged in lightly or casually. The lover and beloved move out of themselves toward the other, making themselves as vulnerable as children. They give all that is in their heart, for they trust that the other will receive and guard the gift.
Author’s Introduction: Imagine if Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, and the other great poets of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages had been given the gift, not only to peer into the twenty-first century, but to correspond with us who live in that most confusing and rudderless of centuries. Had it been in their power to do both of those things, what might they say to us? How would they advise us to live our lives? What wisdom from their experience and from their timeless poems might they choose to pass down to us?
Solomon: On Sex
I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that your age considers itself, not only to have discovered, but to have liberated, the true pleasures of sex. You have not and you did not. Indeed, I would suggest that you have lessened, if not killed those very pleasures that you claim to have set free.
Sex is more than a vehicle for pleasure, just as it is more than method for propagating the species. It is a great mystery that was created by God before the Fall of Man. Had Adam and Eve not disobeyed, there still would have been sex in the Garden.
For sex shares in the same mystery as marriage itself: that of the two into one. When a man and a woman lie together, they do more than create a new life; they are joined together in a union that is, finally, supernatural and meta-physical.
Your age, I’m afraid, in trying to exalt sex to the highest place, stripped it of its sanctity and robbed it of its mystery. You turned it into an idol, and, by so doing, made it worthless. Only by restoring sex to its proper place can you hope to imbue it once again with meaning and beauty.
On the one hand, you take sex too seriously; on the other, you don’t take it seriously enough. You praise it as the greatest pleasure life has to afford, while treating it as just another activity—no different than walking or eating or holding hands. But sex is more than an activity, more than a pastime: it is a formal poem, a complex dance, a solemn game.
When lovers praise each other, they participate in a courtship ritual that echoes God’s love for Israel, for his beloved bride to whom he is linked by a sacred covenant. That doesn’t mean courtship is not fun; to the contrary, it is filled with wonder and joy and ecstasy. But it is a serious kind of fun that treats sexuality with reverence and awe.
You who live in a world where sex has been divorced from mystery, from marriage, even from intimacy, let me give you one piece of advice that I have learned from experience and many years of reflection: Do not arouse or awaken love before its time.
Neither love nor sex is to be trifled with. Both are powerful forces and can only be safely enjoyed in their proper channels. Lovers form physical, emotional, and spiritual bonds that cannot be easily severed.
To arouse sexuality at the wrong time or with the wrong person is like trying to warm yourself on a cold evening by setting your house on fire. Kept within the proper grate, a fire warms and illumines and gives life; if it spills out of the fireplace and spreads to the walls and ceilings, it brings destruction and even death. Just so, sexuality that leaves the confines of marriage consumes everything in its path.
For love is as strong as death and unyielding as the grave. It is not something to be indulged in lightly or casually. The lover and beloved move out of themselves toward the other, making themselves as vulnerable as children. They give all that is in their heart, for they trust that the other will receive and guard the gift.
True lovers hold nothing back. They place their dignity in the care of the one they love; each time they praise the other, each time they unpack the secret places of their heart, they offer themselves up for resistance, rejection, and ridicule.
This is the love that cannot be quenched, the love that cannot be washed away by all the oceans of the world. This is the love that cannot be bought or traded for. It is priceless beyond rubies and pearls.
In your day, as in my own, there are many who think that the pledging of love can only be done by the man. It is true, now and in the future, that the man should be the main pursuer, but that does not mean the woman’s role is to be wholly passive.
She too must risk. She too must praise and celebrate the beauty and strength of her lover. There is no shame in this. The Creator put in man and woman an equal desire for sexual consummation, for the joining of two bodies into one.
Lover and beloved alike must learn to sing the songs of love. Both must put their yearnings and desires into words, words that strengthen the bonds of love by filling the other with confidence and passion.
Do not be like the woman I sang of in one of my songs, who, when her lover knocked on the gate of her room, chose to hide her feelings under a veneer of coldness and sarcasm. “Go home,” she replied to her eager lover, “for I have taken off my robe and washed my feet, and I do not want to dirty them again.”
In response, her lover reached out to her through the closed door. Roused to passion, she tossed aside her cynicism and ran for the door to clasp her lover. But by then he was gone, leaving only the scent of myrrh upon the latch. Desperate now to find him and be taken up in his arms, she ran wildly into the street, calling out his name and asking everyone she met where he could be. The guards of the city found her wandering aimlessly and beat her for her troubles.
Oh, you of the future who think yourselves so wise in matters of sexuality, do not trifle with love, lest you cause pain and humiliation to yourself and to others. Honor virginity and build a wall of protection around it, but do not let your rightful praise for virginity cause you to despise the true and proper pleasures of sexuality.
Find the balance you have lost. Restore to sex its mystery and its power and, whatever you do, do not arouse it before its time!
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “Amor and Psyche” (c. 1805) by Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée (1725-1805), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.