en français“What my soul loves”:
finding again paradise lost

(Song of Songs, 3:1-5)

Sunday Worship, November 8 2015
Sermon by pasteur Marc Pernot


Dear brothers and sisters, the Song of Songs presents us the opportunity of a bucolic excursion with two lovers, or more precisely of two lovers attracted to each other like magnets, in an infinite movement that nothing can hinder, not even death. The excerpt I have chosen sets one of the two lovers seeking for the other. The French translation by Louis Segond states “I have been searching the one my soul loves” and demonstrates us what are transports of love. The Hebrew text, meanwhile, gives us a bit more to think since, word for word, the biblical writer has written: “I have searched what my soul loves”. The beloved person can be included in this search, but the Hebrew text more widely sets the movement of this person as the movement of desire itself, whatever its object may be, may it be a person or not. “What my soul loves” refers to far more than desiring someone or something. “What my soul loves”, it is the Other –called God by Christian theology. This tension of the soul towards the Other is called desire, and the writer stages this desire in the following chapters. Within this excerpt, I would like us to investigate what the biblical writer suggests about this desire, paying a particular attention to the three steps, the three places they distinguish: the bedroom, the public stage and beyond.

1 Natural state, magical thinking

The first place is the bedroom and more precisely the bed. Here, during several nights, the woman has searched what her soul loves. Talking about the beloved person, it means searching him or her where we would like him or her to be, in our bed, in our arms. This scene is somewhat naïve: who would think that it would be sufficient wishing for the presence of the beloved person to make it really happen? Who would think that it would be sufficient thinking to what one wishes to make it really happen? The ones who would be prompted by magical thinking are in this situation. They think that it is sufficient wishing for something to make it happen. Related to the beloved person, it is the nice idea that the other person knows what I want, what I think, what I desire, without that I need to tell it, to express it.

This way of considering the functioning of the relations between persons pertains to a fusional state of mind, of a couple’s life without distance between the persons. This way of considering relationships reveals at the same time the founding mechanism and the dead end to which it leads. The mechanism, as I said, is magical thinking, a fusional state of mind. Everything is directly available: everything is there and everything is mine. It is the idea that there is a natural state of mind to which each life should conform. My beloved person should be where I whish him or her to be, and, in line with this thinking, my beloved person should comply with my wishes. If we broaden this relationship mechanism to family life, my children should do what I want, because they have to be where I want them to be. Intuitively, we quite understand that our children cannot be remote-controlled without thus loosing their freedom. Because my child is not exactly where I would like him to be, he or she can hence live his or her own life. Otherwise, we would be in the situation in which parents, in the end, have the power of life and death over their child. This text frees from a natural, biological right, which would confine to an incestuous or mortiferous relationship.

About God, magical thinking leads to considering prayer within one’s innermost as a way to be able to influence the way of the world and to obtain what one wishes. But the experience of the Song of Songs states that magical thinking is the best way not to find what one searches, because desire, which means lack, what we miss, what we would like to fill, needs that we move ourselves so that it can be filled. Desire calls into question the existence of a sufficient natural order. Desire implies not to let things as they are, otherwise the lack is preserved as it is, and this in the end makes us really sick.

2 Going through one’s social circle

Desire insists and the person, instead of getting sick, goes through the town in order to find the object of her desire. According to the same formula, she searches what her soul loves, but she does not find it. She does not find the object of her desire in her social circle. She does not find her spouse –the one her soul loves. Although the goes through the clubs of which she has a membership, although she goes through her parish… although she goes through her working place, through her neighbourhood, she does not find what her soul loves. If she has left the family house –which will protect her from an incestuous relationship–, she remains in a similarity relationship on the social level. Because desire searches for the Other, it is not in a known environment that I have a chance to find this otherness. Social conformism is as much a dead end as biological conformism, so states the author of this excerpt.

Still talking about the couple, it is worth reminding that marriage, in the Bible, consisted in the alliance of two families, in their matching. Thus, Solomon (1K, 3, 1) allies by marriage with Pharaoh, King of Egypt, by taking his daughter. With the same principle, King Ahaziah was allied by marriage to the house of Achab (2K, 8, 27), as well as Josaphat (2 Chr, 18, 1). The Song of Songs invites us to consider a relationship which does not makes of the spouses the instruments for something else, for example economic or political interests. Here, the biblical text frees the love relationship of legalistic contingencies. As long as the lover remains in her known and waymarked space, as long as she remains in the space marked out by the guards, representatives of the law which watches over her, she does not find what her soul loves. Because desire goes beyond what is known, beyond what is foresaw. Desire moves towards more than what is established.

All the cheerful scenes of the Song of Songs will take place outside the conjugal dimension. This text reminds us that life in its fullness is never written ahead in an established frame. Life exceeds institutions, directions of use, predictions, established norms. Life in its fullness, the one that our desire makes us enjoy, is not the one we already know. It not the life our parents have already known, neither the life of our friends, our colleagues or our contemporaries. We cannot conform ourselves to what we see around us in order to be lucky in love or in other fields of our existence. The only way to fill this desire which drives a lack in ourselves is to go beyond the conventional: going beyond the conjugal to gain access to the nuptial, going from moral to ethics, going from mimicry to creation.

3 Beyond.

This is what does our lover, whose desire does not wane and attracts her towards the unknown. Only after having overtaken the guards, literally speaking after having “crossed” the guards (‘abar root), she finds what her soul loves. The necessity of overcoming social barriers in order to reach what we are entitled to demand for a good life could not be better expressed. The biblical text refuses that a sole model should be established to be the norm for the whole living world. As the object of desire is contained neither in natural order nor in social order, it is to be greeted in this new space opened by the biblical text; in this space, the multitude of possibilities is our horizon. Our desire is limited neither to what we are because of our origins, nor to what we have become because of the others. Desire enables us to go beyond the schemes excessively contains us. Insisting desire leads us towards freedom, freedom to love the one which corresponds to our person and not the one which is imposed upon us because of the right of blood or the convention of the moment, which are so often made into sacred rule.

The text subverts the principle of a sacred rule which would be generally imposed to the whole of mankind. The text subverts the principle of conservatism which asserts that the best we should do is to keep the situation as it is. The woman gets out of the known area, her desire leads her towards what her soul loves, beyond the guards, in the garden of delights, of which the whole biblical book will be the poem. It is not really the principle of pleasure which is claimed here, but rather freedom which guides her path, in this atmosphere of Genesis 2, the garden of Eden which opens before her, once again. After having crossed the guards, she lives in the original scene which drives the two characters towards each other, with the same verb “to come” ( bo’) conjugated in the factitive tense. In Genesis 2, 22, the writer wrote that the Eternal made the woman come to Adam; in the Song of Songs, desire has lead the woman to what her soul loves; then she take hold of him and leads him to the bedroom of her conception, the bedroom of her own genesis. Path to freedom, as I said, because in this new space, in this Eden, everything is possible, except one thing: to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, i.e. to seek absolute knowledge.

The text dismisses the principle of the Dogma, of defined life, of the imprisoned Being. Adam stuck labels on the members of the creation (Gn, 2,20), but it did not bring any satisfaction to him. The loss was absolutely expressed through the voice of the Eternal, until the other person came and he became able to talk, to enter in a dialog, to go into raptures, to marvel, to be astonished, to be jubilant in front of the unknown.

Thus is accomplished this biblical passage that some translations curiously translate with a taboo: “do not arouse or awaken love until she so desires”, while the Hebrew and Greek texts express exactly the contrary to the girls of Jerusalem: “if you awaken, if you arouse love, may it be until she so wants”, until she desires.

While all the biblical texts are holy, according to the tradition, Rabbi Akiba pointed out that the Song of Songs is the holy of holies, the core of faith. This faith, as we understand on reading this excerpt, does not consist in restraining the bursts, in neutralizing enthusiasm. To the contrary, it aims at arousing desiring: the desire to live fully, to live freely, beyond the already established orders, beyond what we are now. It aims at awakening faith: the desire to unconditionally try to find paradise lost.


Merci à Mélanie pour la traduction !
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Song of songs 3:1-5

By night on my bed I was looking for him who is the love of my soul: I was looking for him, but I did not see him.

2 I will get up now and go about the town, in the streets and in the wide ways I will go after him who is the love of my soul: I went after him, but I did not see him.

3 The watchmen who go about the town came by me; to them I said, Have you seen him who is my heart’s desire?

4 I was but a little way from them, when I came face to face with him who is the love of my soul. I took him by the hands, and did not let him go, till I had taken him into my mother’s house, and into the room of her who gave me birth.

5 I say to you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes of the field, let not love be moved till it is ready.