Friday, April 12, 2013

The Shulammite: A Woman in Full; A Woman In Love


Return! Return, O Shulammite. Return! Return, that we may look upon you.
-Song of Songs 6:13

When C.S. Lewis was asked what he thought of the detailed, non-allegorical description of love in literature... “To describe the act of love in detail without resorting to allegory,” answered Lewis, “one is restricted to three choices: the language of the nursery, the language of the gutter, or the language of science – all are equally unsatisfactory."
– C.S. Lewis, Speaker and Teacher, 114.
Learn to see [your husband] through new eyes. True love has three eyes. One eye is dim, dim to his faults. A second eye sees him as the world does. This is an important perspective. Sometimes you must help him see the way the world sees him… A third eye sees him as no one else sees him, appreciates him as no one else appreciates him. Keep this eye sharply focused and you will observe many things to appreciate. Every wonderful wife has a third eye

– Helen Andelin, Fascinating Womanhood, p.62.
There can be a true grandeur in any degree of submissiveness, because it springs from loyalty to the laws, and to an oath, and not from baseness of soul.
– Simone Weil


Many, many books are available to women who are confused about what it means to be a "woman in love." These books endeavor to impart the wisdom of wifery, how to deal with marital problems, how to love her beloved. Many, many books also set out to teach women how to be women, that is, "a woman in full."

The young lady referred to as the Shulamnite in The Song of Songs is a sparking example of a woman in love; as a woman in love, she is a sparking example of a woman in full. She is, in words other, a good model for how a woman in love should related to her man. She has a secret, a certain magical ability, to see the best in her beloved, and call him forth to manly triumph. I can't keep her secret any longer. She is a poet.

Indeed, Return! O, Shulamite! Return that we may look at you. We need to look at you. We need to learn from you.


One word sums up Biblical femininity –  "a woman in full" – respect. A woman who hopes to be all that God would have her be must cultivate a heart wherein lives respect. This involves respect for God (reverence), respect for herself (dignity), respect for her beloved (submission).

Respect For God

What does it mean to have respect for God? It means, first of all, fearing God. God is not to be trifled with. We have, for the most part, done away with the fear of God in American Christianity. We say, "It does not sound very loving to talk about a God who demands fear." We don't know what love is. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of understanding (Proverbs 1:7). We live in a universe governed by a holy God. He is not to be mocked: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap (Galatians 6:7)." God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (Ecclesiastes 13:14). This means that we ought to examine all our actions before the all and ever seeing eye of God.

What does this mean for women? It means that women ought to live their lives out before the gaze of God, with the recognition that God is not to be mocked. The existence of God affects everything. It affects the way women speak with men in the absence of their husband. It impacts the way women dress. It impacts the kind of speech, and the manner of speech, a woman uses. It affects that way that women conduct themselves sexually, economically, socially, morally, and relationally.

Women should constantly ask themselves this question: if someone observed my life, would they conclude that I knew there was a just God? Or, no?

Respect For Self

Respect for God is the first building block of respect for self because respect for God instills a sense of responsibility within our hearts. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; it is also the beginning of self respect. Self respect means treating ourselves, and demanding that others, treat us with dignity. Self respect involves the sense of knowing, "I am something. I matter.What I do matters." But dignity is not cheap. Dignity comes from responsibility; thus, Kings and Queens are most dignified persons in the world. Their dignity comes from the fact that they are responsible for many things. Once we start thinking that we are a bad actor (in the sense of a phony) playing a bit part, reciting cliche lines, in a play written by ourselves, we will lose our sense of self respect. Self respect comes from the sense that I am an actor (in the sense of a real agent of action) who has real choices which result in real consequences now. These choices will be judged at a real God on the judgment day and have real consequences in eternity. Self respect begins with the sense that I am not a zero in the universe whose actions don't matter. I am, rather, either the hero, or the villain, of a dramatic tale which echoes into eternity.

Respect for God works itself out in respect for one’s husband. “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands (1 Peter 3:5).” I will say something that may surprise most women: there is a connection between faith in God, and submission to your husband. If God is really there, and has designed men to be the head of the household, then to be disrespectful to your husband is to be disrespectful to God. Such behavior is, in reality, spitting in God's face.
Respect For Her Beloved

Of course, men ought to live so that women may more easily respect them, but it is possible, in the symbiosis of love, for a woman to so love her man that he becomes easier to respect.

The man presented to us in the Song of Songs is a portrait of manliness. And the Shulamite is the one who paints, and by her painting, makes possible, the portrait. When asked ‘what is so great about your man?’ - the Shulahmite responds:

My beloved is radiant and ruddy,
                distinguished among ten thousand.
His head is the finest gold;
                his locks are wavy,
                black as raven.
His eyes are like doves
                besides streams of water,
                bathed in milk,
                sitting beside a full pool.
His cheeks are like beds of spices,
                mounds of sweet smelling herbs.
His lips are lilies,
                dripping liquid myrrh.
His arms are rods of gold,
                set with jewels.
His body is polished ivory,
                bedecked with sapphires.
His legs are alabaster columns,
                set on bases of gold.
His appearance in like Lebanon,
                choice as the cedars.
His mouth is most sweet,
                and he is altogether desirable.
This is my beloved and this is my friend,
                O daughters of Jerusalem. (Song of Songs 5:10-16).

                No wonder this woman loves and respects this man! No wonder she desires him so ardently! All men may not live up to the high standards of this gentlemen, either in physical beauty or in moral excellence – but I would submit that, in a way, no man lives up to the standards here. No man actually has, "arms of gold" or a body of "polished ivory" – but, in a sense higher, and also deeper, than words, this man did. Such language is poetic, colorful, and thoughtful. The vision presented is a vision of this man poetically, this man ideally, this man glorified. His excellence is not exaggerated – but rather highlighted, and versified. In other words, any man could be this man if only his wife had the heart of a poet. And what, really, is the heart of a poet? It is a heart which TAKES TIME to observe and engage beauty and excellence. It is a heart that sees, with engaged love, the person before me. It is a heart alive with curious joy concerning all the good things God has given. The woman in Song of Songs did not see something which wasn't there; she saw something which was always there. That is, she took the time to see. She saw what he was, and in seeing what he was, she helped him to be what he might be. This is what respect means: enabling your man to be the man you always wanted him to be: the man he always, in a sense, was.

               All men need the kind of respect this woman gives her man. How can a woman love the man God has given her? This woman is a model. First, acknowledge, your man is THE ONE God gave you; he is a gift from God. Then, learn to  praise this man the way this woman praises her man: that is, learn to view your man more poetically. This involves actually take time to think over, and then talk, to your beloved about his strengths. In other words, this will cost you some effort and time; it will cost you some selfishness.

                Respect involves praising, and this woman praises her man in the way he most needs to be praised. She highlights his manliness and strength. Read back, and meditate over, the kinds of images she uses: this is just the sort of things a man loves to hear. The images she uses denote permanence, endurance, and dignity. A man’s greatest fear is disdain. Deep in the male heart lies the trepidation that he will not be regarded: that he is, after all, a nobody, a nothing, a light weight. The antidote for this fear – and perhaps a life time of disdain – is praise and respect. This is what women are called to give in submission; this is what men most need.

[1] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: 321. 

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