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Let me sing for my beloved a love song

Isaiah’s beautiful and haunting love song (Is. 5.1-4, 7) brings to conclusion a kind of pageant of ethical thought that has been before us in chapel over the past several months. We have pondered the mystery of creation and the fall, locating the ways in which those foundational stories in Genesis challenge many of our modern assumptions that separate our humanity from the Creator and creation and from one another even as they awaken us to self-consciousness. We have thought our way through the wisdom of the Ten Commandments as a comprehensive system of reasoning about the freedom and dignity of our obligations and duty towards God and one another. We have looked at the wisdom of Leviticus, at once a commentary on creation, and the biblical source for loving your neighbour as yourself and for loving the stranger as neighbour. We have considered Jesus’ words about loving our enemies! We have weighed the great mystery and wonder of the Beatitudes which recall us to who we are in the sight of God, come what may in the ups and downs of human experience. We are, it seems, more than the externalities which so often claim to define us. In short, there is a blessedness in all these teachings.
 
What makes Isaiah’s love song so poignant and powerful is that it imagines God speaking to our humanity as the beloved and the lover: beloved of us and the lover of our humanity which is imagined as the vineyard of creation. There is the love of God for his creation, his vineyard, and there is the sad reality of our violation and destruction of creation and one another. The song imagines God’s dismay and distress at human folly in ways that are meant to move our hearts and minds. It convicts us. “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” It is a moving indictment of human sin and its consequences; the ‘barbarism’ which makes a ruin of culture and thus, of life itself. “Every culture is a culture of life,” as Michel Henry notes (Barbarism, 1987), but we have become disconnected from our lifeworld through the devaluation of human life and culture by way of the quantifying logic of science reduced to technology.
 
The song makes it clear that the vineyard is “the house of Israel” which takes on a universal significance, especially in Isaiah, as the human community and in terms of the theme of justice. God “looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold a cry!” Such is our betrayal and contradiction of ourselves and the good order of creation. Yet the love song is a wake-up call to the truth of our humanity as ultimately defined by the justice and holiness of God such as we have seen in the great ethical teaching not only of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures but by way of Buddhism and Hinduism or what C.S. Lewis called the Tao, invoking the wisdom of the Far East as a collective term for the necessity of the ethical. “But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness” (Is. 5. 16)). We are brought low and humbled in order to be raised up in knowledge and love. Such is the blessing of “the poor in spirit,” the humble ones who are open to the truth and beauty of God and his creation; such is the blessing really of “the kingdom of heaven.”
 
The point is that these teachings speak to heart and mind and to what belongs to our lives together in an intentional community of care and compassion. Thus, the chapel experience is fundamentally educational. It does not and cannot be measured by the personal faith or non-faith of students and faculty, whatever that might mean, however much it may help to deepen faith and, at the very least, awaken an understanding and a respect for what is meant by faith. Nor can it be measured by the ideological currents of contemporary culture in all of its complexities and confusions. It can only offer a coherent and respectful way of thinking about the ethical as essential to education and character. As such it challenges the technocratic culture which reduces us to things, to objects that are to be used and often misused as commodities.
 
November began with All Saints, for instance, with the vision of the unity of the human community, “a multitude which no man could number”, itself a critique of the technoculture of the quantification of everything, a reminder that there is more than number to reality, such as the concept of number itself! The Communion of Saints is composed “of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues”. That unity is not found in ourselves but in what unites us, namely, God, as the principle of the being and knowing of all things. Isaiah’s love song simply and movingly recalls us to the love of God as the principle which is set before us to order and move our loves.
 
Now in chapel we turn to the motions of divine love coming towards us in the near approach of Advent and Christmas as we begin to prepare for the Advent/Christmas Services of Lessons and Carols. God’s Word coming towards us is the meaning of Advent that brings us to the mystery of the Word made flesh in the Christian understanding. Such is Emmanuel, God with us. The Word as Light and Life coming into the darkness of our world and day.
 
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, Head of English and ToK Teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy


IB Programme
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King’s-Edgehill School is located in Mi'kma'ki, the unceded ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq People.