Song of Solomon 2:8-13 invites us to listen to the voices that are subjugated by systems of sexism, racism, xenophobia, bigotry, and the like. When love is forbidden, streets will be crowded, when love is forbidden, widows will be broken, when love is forbidden, resilience is inevitable.
Mothers like Hagar who bear the weight of racism in the wilderness (Genesis 21:14) are always on the verge of losing their children—inferiorized by racist prejudice. These mothers’ voices are crying out, “Do not let me look on the death of the child” (Genesis 21:16).
The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob cried out for deliverance, and Yahweh heard them (Exodus 2:23). Notice carefully: Yahweh did not offer to comfort the Hebrews. Yahweh did not tell them to endure their situation because things would all work out in the end, or because after death they would be “in a better place.” Instead, Yahweh acted on covenant promises made with their ancestors by entering history.
This is what it means to be speaking in tongues: not what the empires and the sub-empires of today want to hear—the sound of one voice, one language—but the vulnerable dissenting in their own—the sound of many, the sound of chaos, the sound like the “rush of a violent wind” (verse 2).
When we read of God enthroned as the great king, perhaps we can imagine a system of governance where our political rivals are not beaten into submission, but are disarmed by love; where those who are different from us are respected, listened to, learned from; where brute force is neutralized by a refusal to retaliate and is resisted through active non-violence. Toward this end, God is indeed the great leader, the one who models “power under” for all of us.
As tempting as it might be to assign murderous impulses to so-called former colonial times, Christians would do well to pay attention to how such logic continues to operate today in theological and political thinking.
For those who are most vulnerable today—those at risk of infection due to socio-economic injustices that put them in greater harm’s way and/or age and immune-deficiencies that leave their bodies more compromised to the most severe effects of the COVID-19 virus, particularly in the United States, the disproportionate numbers of people of color whose communities are being ravaged by this disease—John’s text speaks a word of encouragement and hope.
We must remember that even when the pandemic is over, this nation will still be under threat by people and forces who have declared war on everything and everyone it defines as “other”. We must remain committed to being hospitable to the stranger, and caring for the most vulnerable.