Oscar Wilde’s tutor at Oxford answered a suffragette’s question about whether men and women were innately different: “Madam, I cannot conceive”. Given a strong Christian tradition of representing God’s relation to humankind in terms of the relationship between a man and a woman or, indeed, as conception, does this pose issues for the religious experience and expression of a man?
Do gender stereotypes – such as a still dominant cultural expectation of men to be strong and independent – inhibit men’s receptivity to God? In a divine experience, can men ‘come as they are’ and leave without, in cultural terms, changing and perhaps even emasculating themselves significantly?
Hopefully a composer can take inspiration from these concerns, and apply them with me in a musical exploration of Song of Songs 3:6-11. The passage depicts a Bridegroom, a character who is at once richly symbolic and tantalisingly mysterious. In terms of gender, the man referred to as ‘Solomon’ arguably toes the line between contrasting conceptions of masculinity: forceful and receptive; powerful and passive. The depiction of this smoky, amorous, combative character will question and challenge conceptions of gender both modern and biblical.
Keywords: masculine experience of God, contrasts between force and reception, power and passivity