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Musings on Love, Death and the Song of Songs

As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men.
With great delight I sat in his shade, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. – The Song of Songs 2:3

In this verse of The Song of Songs, Jesus is compared by His bride to the apple tree; the one tree that is pleasing to all the senses. The apple tree is also symbolic of the tree that Christ died upon; the tree that restored and redeemed what was lost at the apple tree in the Garden of Eden by the sin of Adam and Eve.

“With great delight I sat in his shade.”
As I’ve prayed with this line, I’ve pondered how I could possibly sit “with great delight” in His shade – in the shadow of His crucified body on the Cross. How could I take great delight at witnessing His suffering, His vulnerability, His weakness, His nakedness? And yet, it is here at the Cross of Christ that we experience the fullness of the love for which we were made. The Love that gives everything for His beloved. The Love that stops at nothing, not even death, so His beloved ones might contemplate the depth with which they are loved. In these truths we can take great delight! His is the “Love all loves excelling” and we do indeed “tremble as we gaze.” (Ref: O Sacred Head, Surrounded, ancient Catholic hymn attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux).

Love is the Anthem
Throughout much of 2023, I journeyed through the 19th annotation of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises.* At the end of the exercises, the Lord generally sends each retreatant off to live out the mission He has for them, that mission becoming clearer as we progress through the flow of the Exercises. When I asked the Lord to clarify my mission for Him, I heard His response as an interior whisper, “Love is the anthem over our life together.”

Ooh, that sounds so poetic, so romantic…Love is the Anthem…(queue a Leonard Cohen song). And surely, to sing an anthem of love with Jesus over our life together is a beautiful and majestic calling. However, in flushing out the how of this mission, the imagery diverges from where my mind initially wandered off to… Jesus and me riding in a regal horse-drawn carriage with stately riders in front carrying banners that spell out the word L O V E.

The imagery of true love revealed by God penetrates our hearts as we contemplate Christ on the cross. This imagery of true love revealed to our hearts defies and contradicts the image of suffering we perceive with our eyes. The cross is the place of contradiction. A both-and place. It is the one place where we behold the total outpouring of Love alongside the most gruesome of suffering.

for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.
Love no flood can quench, no torrents drown.- The Song of Songs 8:6-7

God always has so much more for us. What He shows us of love goes way beyond the world’s sugar-coated, feel-good, hallmark-y version of love. God’s love, as revealed to us through Jesus’ Self-gift, is far more meaningful and efficacious. This Love is capable of great fruitfulness, as it compels a transformation in the one receiving His Love. We are invited to come with our poverty and pain and leave with the riches of His love and mercy.

How to Live this Mission

You and I are each invited – called and chosen, really – to spend the rest of our lives living into this mission He’s given, to let Love be the anthem, the banner He hangs over our lives.

He leads me to the banquet hall, And the banner He raises over me is love. – Song of Songs 2:4

Living this mission will call us to rise above our human nature in choosing interior mortification, self-denial, serving others, putting others’ interests ahead of our own. This self-sacrificial love is not possible for us fallen creatures without total dependence upon His supernatural grace. Our mission will be fruitful to the degree that we allow our lives to be united with His life – and with His death.

In doing this, we are enabled to go far beyond the shallow, self-focused version of love that the world proclaims and live into a Love that has the power to transform the world, again and again. Jesus has shown us how to love. He became the template from which to shape our lives and our work on His mission field: the particular home, family, community in which He’s placed us.

Seek the contradiction. It is always both-and with our blessed Savior. As we faithfully endure our particular agonies, may we never forget to run to Him on the cross, flinging our wounded hearts and pain-wracked bodies upon His wounded heart and pain-wracked body. There, the sour mingles with the sweet. We experience the agony and the ecstasy. The wood and the roses.

“To offer a sacrifice doesn’t mean that you won’t feel the pain of it; on the contrary, the pain will return many times to stir up its bitter waters. But at each new tide of distress, come back again to Me in a spirit of sacrifice, and a rainbow of blessings will light up the earth. So many things are invisible to you. They emanate from your actions like a healing aureole…Who can stop the flight of good from soul to soul right to the very end of the world?” (Jesus to Gabrielle Bossis, He and I, page 64).

* The 19th annotation, also known as the Ignatian Retreat in Daily Life, is a version of the Spiritual Exercises designed for people who cannot be away for 30 days to do the Exercises as they were practiced originally. It is an 8-9 month program of prayer and meetings with a spiritual director, following a pattern of meditation, contemplation, and scripture reading

Denise (De) Yarrison guides women along the journey to spiritual and emotional healing, through inner healing coaching, deliverance prayer, and healing retreats. She is consistently awed at how very present our Lord is and has witnessed, again and again, the healing power of His deep Love for each one of us.

“I am humbled and privileged to walk alongside my sisters in Christ, to be invited into their stories and life experiences. I pray we will each know – really claim in our bones - how deeply, unconditionally, and extravagantly we are loved by God our Father. May we open ourselves to His love and allow it to change our lives!” – De

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