The Song of Songs: Exploring the divine romance
Hodder & Stoughton £13.99
Church Times Bookshop £12.60
THIS is an excellent book. I had come to it with very high expectations because of the author’s reputation, and I was not disappointed. It is a commentary on the Song of Songs, subtitled Exploring the divine romance. The sheer breadth of Cleverly’s reading is swiftly apparent, and his aim is to write a “book about that holy longing — a longing for human connection, including sexual connection: and ultimately for connection with God — a longing for the divine romance”. Without any awkwardness, he engages with the text on different levels with consummate integrity.
Pete Greig, in his foreword, writes: “this book will be an enormous blessing to anyone longing for deeper intimacy with God, to worship leaders looking for fresh inspiration, to pastors who’ve never yet dared preach on the Song of Songs and even to evangelists seeking to convey the passion of Christ to a culture so salted with desire.”
In the opening two chapters, the first, “Alienation, Our Sexuality and the Holy Longing”, and the second, “Understanding the Song”, Cleverly explains the importance of the book in engaging with the human situation and the questions people ask; he clearly understands our times, and shows how the Song of Songs helps us engage with them. He uses the wisdom of the ages, both Christian and not, deftly and accessibly. They are superb introductory chapters.
He then embarks on a commentary characterised by a careful engagement with the text, a sensitive response to the issues raised, and application of immense integrity. Each chapter concludes with spiritual exercises, “sometimes [drawing] on Ignatian ideas, sometimes on other practices such as Lectio Divina and other disciplines of intimacy”. They are remarkably helpful.
A short review can only begin to convey the quality of this marvellous book. I wholeheartedly recommend its purchase.
The Revd Jeremy Crossley is the Rector of St Margaret Lothbury and St Stephen Coleman Street, London.