A couple of years ago I read the commentary on Song of Solomon, in the New Interpreter's Bible. It is written by Renita Weems, an African American Pentecostal turned Methodist now married to a Baptist Pastor, and previously a Professor of Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt University. The commentary is a wonderful corrective to those who approach the Song with all the inhibitions of Western culture, uncomfortable with the relationship between love, physicality and the human body. Written by a woman, taking seriously the sensuality and romance of these ancient love poems, the commentary is an unembarrassed affirmation of human love as God's good gift, nothing to be ashamed of but to be celebrated, enjoyed and wondered at in all its life-enhancing mystery. But more of this another time.
I've just read another of her books, Listening for God. a Minister's Journey Through Silence and Doubt. This is spirituality that is honest, self-inquisitive, unafraid to own up to the hard journey that is our walk with God - Who if always present, is seldom obviously so. Here and there Weems comes close to self-pity - but even that, if we are half as honest as Renita Weems, is an attitude most of us fall into, and as quickly deny. But most of the time she writes out of a hard won faith, and describes the inner landscape of uncertainty, of missed opportunities, disappointed hopes, hurts and wounds that have very long half-lives; and she does so with an at times desperate determination to hold God to account. How can any human hold God to account - well that depends on the God. A God who is faithful, constant, there but not obviously so, a Sovereign Creator whose mercy can at times seem severe, that Other whose purposes are hidden behind our most feared scenarios, and whose presence makes such scenarios survivable.
Here is just one excerpt, which can stand as a sample for the whole of this fine, brave and in the best sense en-couraging book:
But what if God's silence is not a ruse? What if God's silence is precisely the way God speaks....Silence can also be an invitation, an invitation to communicate without words, without thunder, without burning bushes. In an age addicted to words, when memos, faxes, Post-its, E-mail, announcements, flash bulletins, cell-phones and news make talk cheap and easy it is frustrating to be told we must not rely on words - direct speech that is. The burning bush was an invitation to be weaned off burning bushes, to come closer, to stay awahile, to learn idiosyncracies, to commune.
God speaks through burning bushes to get our attention so as never to have to speak again that way. Perhaps it's when we confuse God's intervention with God's intention that we set ourselves up for years of fist-raising questions...... (pages 198-99).
The whole book is uncomfortable reading, in a strangely comforting way.