Volendam. It’s been over ten years, but the first time I visited this quaint, little harbor town in high school, it was a cold, cloudy, rainy day. This time it is bright, sunny, and cool. The waters in the harbor are calm, unlike the choppy waters more than a decade ago. As we park the car in order to stretch our legs and go to the walkway along the shore, we park next to a little vehicle with a large decal of Marilyn Monroe on it. We stop and I have my picture taken “with Marilyn”.
Although the town is what steals my heart, Marilyn Monroe has been an inspiration to many. In an interview in 1988, Enya credits her song “Cursum Perficio” to Marilyn Monroe, specifically to Monroe’s house. As she elaborated in the interview, “‘Cursum Perficio’ comes from a documentary about Marilyn Monroe. It means ‘Here ends my journey’ and that saying was engraved in the entrance of her last house. But that’s how it often happens. Those two words haunted me for weeks and then I finally used them in a song.”1
There lyrics in the song are minimal as Enya repeats the Latin phrases several times over, re-recording over her voice to create her distinctive style, but the lyrics and the sound is appropriate to the subject matter. The song strongly implies a sense of the afterlife, with Enya’s haunting sounds making one feel almost like one is journeying through Dante’s spheres of the afterlife, particularly in the lines which follow “my journey ends here”, which are translated into “a word is enough for the wise; the more one has, the more he desires”. This appears to be a warning to others based on Marilyn Monroe’s own troubled personal life, which patterns that of many celebrities. The closing lyrics, “Post nubila, Phoebus. (in) Aeternum”, are most suggestive of Enya’s hinting at what lies beyond death, translated as they are into “after the clouds, the light. Forever.” But although this may be how Enya and her lyricist Roma Ryan translate the Latin into English, I find it curious that the name Phoebus is kept capitalized, with it being another name for the Greco-Roman god, Apollo – the embodiment of “sun and light”, among many other things.2
Although Roma Ryan provides the English translation of “Phoebus” as “light” in general, I find the capitalization of the noun to be significant. Jesus Christ eventually replaced Apollo as the Ultimate sun god. So perhaps Roma Ryan’s ambiguity with the capitalization of Phoebus as general light is intentional, referring not specifically to Apollo, but to the Source of light, whoever or whatever that might be. And if that is the case there is no reason not to interpret “Cursum Perficio” as referring to Jesus Christ and the eternity with him that his followers wait for.
We celebrate Easter because we believe that Jesus did not remain dead, but rose to new life. And when he conquered death and was resurrected, “He also said to them, ‘This is what is written: the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem…He led [his disciples] out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. And while He was blessing them, He left them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:46-47, 50-51). Although we believe, based on this passage, that Jesus Christ “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father”, we also wait for His return to earth when “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because God’s glory illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk in its light and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Revelation 21:23-24).
In my last blog post, I wrote about being obedient to Christ’s path of humility, even to the point of death on a cross. But such humility only makes sense if there is a resurrection to new life to follow, and Christ’s resurrection is bringing about new life in all areas of life, here on earth. Followers of The Way, as early Christians were called, suffered persecution under the Roman empire for centuries until Constantine’s edict of toleration. They were persecuted largely because it was believed their presence angered the gods. But the ascended Jesus Christ overthrew the Roman gods. In our lives, too, we have to pass through the clouds before we can experience the light. For followers of Christ, such light isn’t received only after we die, but can begin to be experienced now on earth and into eternity.
Earlier, I compared my two experiences at Volendam. As I reflect on them now, they were strangely prescient. What many people don’t know is that the first time I lived in Germany in high school, I felt a strong sense of depression. Everything in Germany was so gray, as exemplified in my first experience of Volendam, and I was so resistant to what my time there had to offer and teach me. I know that many co-workers and friends may have been puzzled by my subsequent decision to go back to Germany many years later. But I had to go in order to know if in the intervening years I really had grown and changed as much as I felt I had. Sure enough, my second experience in Germany was much more pleasant, as typified by my sunnier experience at Volendam. Although I still occasionally experience bouts of melancholy, and although I am far from being perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect, I have learned to stop resisting the transforming work of the Holy Spirit and to be more accepting of how He brings change in my life.
As Teilhard de Chardin exhorts, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”3 Most people reading that passage from de Chardin tend to emphasize the slowness of God’s work, but I would suggest that we also stress that the work is God’s to begin with. As I mentioned previously, we tend to want to change each other, perhaps not trusting that God is capable and is enough, but it is so much more freeing if we allow God to do His work without trying to control the process. For we are each of us “on the way to something unknown, something new”, and “only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.”4 In the meantime, let us rejoice in the Christ whose resurrection and ascension is the firstfruits of new life. And let us patiently wait for the fullness of time, when the time is right, for Christ to return and make His home among us for all eternity. After the clouds, the Light that is Christ…Forever.
1 “Cursum Perficio” Enya.sk. Web. Accessed on 3 March 2018. <http://enya.sk/music/watermark/cursum-perficio/>
2 “Apollo” Wikipedia.org. Web. Accessed on 4 March 2018. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo>
3 “Prayer of Teilhard de Chardin” IgnatianSprituality.com. Web. Accessed on 4 March 2018. <https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/8078/prayer-of-theilhard-de-chardin>