The Queen of Sheba
English version by Mother Columba Hart
The Queen of Sheba
Came to Solomon;
That was in order to gain wisdom.
When she had found him, indeed,
His wonders streamed upon her so suddenly
That she melted in contemplation.
She gave him all,
And the gift robbed her
Of everything she had within --
In both heart and mind,
Everything was engulfed in love.
|-- from Hadewijch: The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality) , by Mother Columba Hart|
/ Photo by priesteres /
Although my mother's family was Catholic, my mother herself was a freethinker who didn't want to raise me with overly rigid ideas of religion. She made sure I was exposed to the services of several different Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions so I could make up my own mind about God and religion as I grew up.
But that open-ended structure also meant that I came late to the Bible. I was in college before I really sat down and started reading the Bible. It wasn't what I expected! How was I to understand these complex histories, stories, poems, and sayings? One thing was immediately obvious to me-- a surface, literal reading of the Bible was not the way to understand its heart. I frequented the college libraries, checking out books of biblical commentary, from rather stuffy old tomes to modern New Age interpretations, all in an intense effort to discover what was really being conveyed by this enigmatic holy book.
You know, one of the sections that really had me scratching my head for a long time was the Song of Songs, sometimes called the Song of Solomon. In the center of the Bible was a love poem! An erotic love poem. The Song of Songs is a poem of pastoral lovers, alternating between the man's voice and the woman's voice. Although a reading of the poem won't tell you this, tradition says that it is written by King Solomon and it relates his love affair with the Queen of Sheba. As lovely as the Song of Solomon is, what does it have to do with religion and spiritual truth? I mean, it is steamy stuff!
A little more background to help us make sense of the underlying meaning of Hadewijch's poem: King Solomon was the son of the heroic King David. Solomon was considered the embodiment of perfect wisdom. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mystics have looked to Solomon as the keeper of hidden divine knowledge. The Queen of Sheba is said to have come from Africa or Arabia. When these two great rulers met, they had a celebrated love affair.
But what does any of this have to do with spirituality? A surface telling of this story may be entertaining, but there is a deeper, esoteric meaning underlying all of this.
In the spiritual reading of this story, the figures of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon represent the classic spiritual lover and Beloved. In this lover/Beloved dichotomy, the woman typically represents the soul and the man represents God. The journeying Queen of Sheba coming to King Solomon is the searching soul awakening to love as it approaches God in His radiant wisdom.
This is how the Song of Songs, and so many other classic poems describing passionate lovers, can be simultaneously read as spiritual works. Love and passion, separation and and loss of self and union. These teach us important lessons of the spiritual journey and the relationship between oneself and the Divine.
Keeping this in mind, reread this poem by Hadewijch.
Does it make more sense now? Hadewijch is saying that the journeying soul ("The Queen of Sheba / Came to Solomon; / That was in order to gain wisdom") encounters the Divine Presence and yields ("she melted in contemplation") The little self becomes nothing ("Nothing remained"), yet is flooded with the great vision of reality ("His wonders streamed upon her") and all-encompassing love ("Everything was engulfed in love").
This is the great spiritual formula: the sweetly melting ego leads to the Divine Self; death leads to new Life.
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