Scripture Focus: Song of Songs 4.2, 4
2 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
not one of them is alone.
4 Your neck is like the tower of David,
built with courses of stone;
on it hang a thousand shields,
all of them shields of warriors.
Reflection: You’re The Top
By John Tillman
The abundant praise of the bride uses over the top, lavish language with references that don’t always land for modern readers.
It’s not that unusual to compare our loved ones to things our culture values. Cole Porter’s 1934 song, “You’re The Top” is one example. The duet between complimentary lovers contains cultural references that might be enigmatic for today’s listeners.
You’re the top.
You’re a Waldorf salad.
You’re the top.
You’re a Berlin ballad.
The “Waldorf” salad was created in 1896 at the original Waldorf Hotel in New York City and swept the country as a new sensation and mark of refinement. Modern listeners might wonder why Germany’s capital is known for ballads, but the lyrics refer to famous American songwriter, Irving Berlin.
If we have difficulty deciphering metaphors written in our native tongue less than a century ago, we should have humility with older cultural references, written in a language we don’t speak. We don’t have to understand them completely, however, to realize every phrase carries the writer’s highest praise.
Who can live up to giving or receiving these praises? Who can live up to being called by Cole Porter, “the tower of Pisa,” or by Solomon, “the Tower of David”? Can we praise our own lovers in this way? Can we accept praise such as this?
In my own life, I have a habit of pushing away compliments, especially about my appearance or talents. I drop my eyes, shake my head, and say, “no,” or I deflect with self-deprecation. Porter does this too. After saying his lover is the “smile on the Mona Lisa” he says, “I’m a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop”
In an image-obsessed culture, how do we healthily praise each other? How do we process body image issues and outrageous cultural expectations of beauty? Balancing humility and honesty while receiving compliments is complex. Neither self-inflated pride nor self-effacing despair are healthy.
We are liable to fail, not only in words we attempt to say but in attempting to live up to what our lovers say in return or what we feel our lovers expect.
Grace for ourselves and our loved ones is required. We must learn not only to love but to be loved and celebrated.
Leaning on and using the poetry and praise of others can help. Perhaps we can begin to say and accept from one another, “You’re the top.”
Music: “You’re the Top” performed by Sutton Foster and Collin Donnell
Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For who is God, but the Lord? Who is the Rock, except our God? — Psalm 18.32
– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.
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Oh what a happy spring of meditation, is a rooted, predominant love of God! Love him strongly, and you cannot forget him.