Why So Pale?

May 20, 2008 | No comments yet

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By: Dennis Bates


Another true confession: I’m a sucker for old English poetry, especially the romance poets. Go figure, I like love stories and old English romantic poems. How predictable.  At least this is; I’ll save unpredictable for another time and that time will come. Trust me.


One of my favorite old poems or at least one that I can still remember is by Sir John Suckling who lived between 1609 and 1642. It starts off:


“Why so pale and wan, fond lover?

Prithee, why so pale?

Will, when looking well can’t move her,

Looking ill prevail?

Prithee, why so pale?


Okay, so spell check doesn’t recognize the word “prithee.” Deal with it. It seems that when either a man or a woman was having trouble attracting the subject of their affections there was a tendency in those days to literally wear their sadness on their faces. They wouldn’t eat, they bathed even less than they usually did, which in some cases wasn’t all that much to begin with, and they walked around looking forlorn. There were some suggestions that powdery make up was used to make themselves look even worse than they really did, hence the pale and wan reference. A century or two later women named Bronte and Austen made an art form out of the pathetic pathos of unrequited love, which frankly bores me beyond comprehension.


I know, I’m in the minority, but come on already. Life is short; it was even shorter back then and moping around the moors for a man called Heathcliff or Mr. Darcy means these women needed a life, even if they could write. Okay, I exaggerate slightly.


My point is Suckling was poking fun at this notion of looking bad on purpose to get someone’s attention.  His whole point is if you can’t get them to look at you when you’re looking good, why on earth do you think they would give you a second glance when you are looking your worst and smelling that way too? It just doesn’t make sense.


I know Suckling is talking about the physical attraction of men and women here, but I’m wondering if we don’t still have some of the same demented notions in Christianity these days when it comes to putting our best foot forward. Only maybe we have it in reverse.  If we can’t attract people to a relationship with our Lord by showing them his love and overwhelming understanding and compassion, why do we think that showing them anything less will work?


The only people that Jesus railed against were the religious elite of the day. The sanctimonious rule mongers who felt they were above everybody else. He didn’t condemn nor did he scold the sinners; he loved them and forgave them, offering them a better way to live. He didn’t force it on them or tell them they were vile wretched creatures. He saved that kind of condemnation for all those people who didn’t think they were like that.


Jesus showed his best side, not a long list of rules nobody could follow. Shouldn’t we be showing our best side, not our worst?


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