Real Joy Is Found in the Presence of Heaven’s Prince


I guess I need to see an Eye, Ears, Nose & Throat specialist. Or maybe a neurologist. I keep getting things stuck in my head.

I got a frog stuck in my throat at the end of a recent sermon. (Better for it to hop in at the end than the beginning.) Allergies, I think. Exacerbated by the fact that it never rains here anymore.

I often get songs stuck up there. Sometimes they’re really good ones. But the more pernicious the song, the longer it seems to stay stuck in my cranium. Stuff like “Achy Breaky Heart” pops in unbidden. Or the theme song of hell: “I Did It My Way.” (Great. Now it’s back.)

Sometimes literary quotations get stuck up there, too. Maybe I read the book this week. Or maybe three decades ago. But a quotation jumps into my brain and starts bumping around.

The way to replace songs lodged in my head is to listen to some music I love and replace the stuck stuff. And the way to get the quotation dislodged is to write about it and/or get busy reading something else.

This morning the dismal words of poet Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) in his “Hymn to Proserpine” began replaying in my head, and I will now proceed to remove them.

In the poem Swinburne ruminates on what a “philosophic” pagan might have felt as Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire (declared so by the Emperor Constantine in 313). Constantine’s nephew, Emperor Julian the Apostate, died in 363, the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire. Julian had wanted to take the Empire back to the “good ol’ days” when paganism ruled unbridled and being a Roman was fun (my phrasing). The death-bed “last words” attributed to Julian (probably falsely) were, “You have conquered, Galilean.”

Thus Swinburne writes, “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath.”

That view could hardly be more mistaken, but I think I understand why some adopt it. Real “holiness” is never loud. Real piety has no need to be pretentious or “self-conscious” at all. Spend much time with folks more sanctimonious than sanctified, whose “holiness” could well be described as condescending, tiresome, persnickety, frenetic, manipulative, boring, burdensome, unsmiling,  self-righteous . . . and you can count on your world quickly going grey as all the life is chased away. (God help us not to be those folks!)

But spend time getting to really know the Galilean, and you’ll find eye-popping color, the richest laughter, the deepest joy even in the midst of sorrow, and a genuine breadth and quality of wide-awake life that will dwarf your best dreams of what real life could ever be.

Maybe Emperor Julian longed for the good ol’ days when Bacchus, the god of revelry, and his ilk held sway. But the real joy found in the presence of Heaven’s true Prince is enough to make Bacchus blush and go pale forever.




Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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