Wednesday, January 23, 2013

To love another person is to see the face of God

Okay, so I've blogged about Les Miserables before... but it's been about six years since then, so I figure I can write about it again!  There have been few stories that have impacted me as much as Les Miserables, and have endured in my heart and mind as long.

My first exposure to the story of Les Miserables came in 2002, when I was a sophomore in high school.  I was in Concert Choir that year, and our director gave us a medley from the musical to sing at the Spring Concert.  He announced that there would be a handful of solos for which we could audition, including a baritone solo ("Do You Hear the People Sing?").  My voice register was lower at that time, and most solos were so far out of my range that I didn't even bother auditioning...  Until we received the Les Mis medley, that is.  

That weekend, I went over to a friend's house and watched the 15th anniversary concert on DVD.  Because the concert was essentially a highlight reel (with many songs cut out, and the actors simply standing by mics and singing rather than performing as they would in the theater), I had a difficult time following the story, but I did enjoy the music.

Skipping ahead a little bit, I got the solo, and thoroughly enjoyed singing such a passionate song of revolution in the Spring Concert.  However, more than that, I was left wondering at how all of the songs in the medley fit together.  There seemed to be a beautiful story behind the lyrics, and the medley (as well as the concert DVD) only afforded snippets.  

That summer, I received my driver's license, and one of the first CD sets I bought for my car was the complete Broadway recording of Les Miserables (I forget which recording).  Additionally, I purchased and read an abridged edition of the Victor Hugo novel.   I completely fell in love with the story, with its theme of undying, transformative grace in the midst of what seems at times to be utter hopelessness.

Over the following years, I could forget neither the music nor the theme of grace.  When I wrote a scholarship application essay for college, I compared the characters of Javert and Valjean in talking about legalism vs. grace.  When I auditioned for a college music scholarship, I sang "Do you hear the people sing?" once again.  In 2007, my brother was cast as Jean Valjean in the Lynden Christian production of Les Miserables, and I flew back to Washington from Iowa to watch him in two performances (the occasion for my previous blog-post on Les Mis).  I have, several times, sung songs from Les Mis to my students at CAJ.  

Needless to say, it's a story that has held tremendous personal significance for me, and I always wished that more people knew the story or had the chance to watch the musical.  With the recent movie adaptation of the musical, I got my wish.  

On Tuesday night at Japanese class, my teacher mentioned that he had just watched Les Miserables over the weekend and said just how much he had enjoyed the music and appreciated the story.  As far as I know, my teacher isn't a Christian.  Most in Japan are not.  And yet, the movie seems to be doing very well here.  What an encouragement this is!

Grace is transformative.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes true grace as something costly; something that will change a person from the inside out.  Certainly this is what happens to Jean Valjean: years of imprisonment had built up callouses around his heart, and he fell from being a decent man who was simply trying to put food on the table for his sister's family to a bitter, desperate ex-convict, angry at the world and at God.  Such bitterness and hatred is like plaque--nearly impossible to scrape off or penetrate.  Yet, when the Bishop of Digne saves Valjean from returning to prison and gives him those candlesticks, it breaks Valjean's heart.  

I believe many in the world today are in (or have been in) the place that Valjean was in when he stole the silverware from the old bishop.  Our hearts are hard.  We are desensitized by a world that is saturated with corruption, immorality, cut-throat competition (and/or blind conformity) and hate.  It's tough for the Gospel to break through and for our hearts to be filled with the joy that comes with God's grace and forgiveness.  Depending on the exact situation, it is like the seeds sown on rocky or thorny soil (Luke 8).  

What good would the Gospel be if grace were merely a theory that was discussed and pontificated upon academically, but never lived, never put into practice?  The bishop surely had the smarts to preach to Valjean if he'd wanted to, but instead he keeps his words to a minimum and lets an act of love do the talking.  Valjean goes on to pay this love forward throughout the remainder of his days.

My first challenge to myself as much as to my readers is to accept the candlesticks.  To allow God's grace to break my heart and penetrate the callouses that keep me from consistently rejoicing in the Gospel.  My second challenge is that we strive for grace in our relationship with others; that we can do for those around us what the bishop did for Valjean, and what Valjean would go on to do for Fantine, Cosette, Marius and even Javert.  Grace changes hearts, and changed hearts alter the course of our lives.  May we receive God's grace and ourselves be agents of grace!

1 comment:

  1. Though I really enjoy musical theater, I had never seen Les Mis until two weeks ago when my husband and I went to see the movie. At the end of the movie we both just sat in our seats, drained and shaken from experience. What a powerful story, and music. I had riffled through Les Mis in high school, just enough to pass the test, and I bought the Kindle version to read before seeing the movie. At 2000 + pages, I never got through it, but was thrilled with the coalescing of the spirit and message into heartbreaking and uplifting music.

    As we were leaving the theater, I heard a group of young women talking about the movie. "I thought it would NEVER end! That was the longest movie I've ever had to sit through!" And I thought it was so terribly sad that they were blinded and deaf to all the grace, power, and redemption they had just seen. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear . . . ," or seeds on rocky soil, as you point out.

    We continued to talk over dinner about what we had just seen. One of the most striking contrasts was the way Valjean and Javert react to their own private moments of epiphany.

    Thans for posting this.