My soul was transformed yesterday by the transcendent message of the power of love embodied in the movie Les Miserables. This movie, it seems, could not have been released at a better time for our culture. At a time when we have all been witnesses to far too many reminders of the horrifying power of violence, the message of Les Miserables reminds us of the transformative power of love.
When Jean Valjean, the protagonist of the movie, finishes serving his nineteen years in prison for stealing a piece of bread and for subsequently trying to escape from prison, he is a marked man unable to find work or a place to live. He ends up meeting a local bishop who takes him in, providing him food and a place to sleep. While everyone else is asleep, Valjean steals the bishop’s silver and flees into the night. He is soon arrested and returned to the bishop where the police tell the bishop that Valjean claims that the silver was given to him by the bishop as a gift. The bishop goes along with Valjean’s story and then goes a step farther, offering Valjean his silver candlesticks as well.
Valjean is overwhelmed by the bishop’s faith and his forgiveness, as he sings, “One word from him, and I’d be back beneath the lash, upon the rack. Instead he offers me my freedom. I feel shame inside me like a knife. He told me that I have a soul. How does he know? What spirit came to move my life? Is there another way to go?” The bishop reminds Valjean that his soul belongs to God and that there is indeed another way to go.
Valjean chooses “another way” and throughout the rest of the movie we see him offering abundant love and mercy to many people, including even Javert, the officer of the law who is his greatest persecutor. Without the bishop’s gift, Valjean would not have seen that there was another way to go. And when I speak of the bishop’s gift, I am not referring to the gift of his silver collection. I speak rather of the gift of the bishop’s love, the gift of the bishop’s ability to validate the good in Valjean’s soul and to inspire that good into being. It is this gift from the bishop that Valjean must first receive before he can then turn around and offer it to others.
As we come to the end of a year and the beginning of another, it is common practice to pause and reflect on our intentions for the new year. Resolutions related to diet, exercise, organization, and finances are quite common, and indeed important. Inspired by the message of Les Miserables though, I invite us all to also consider resolutions that are spiritual in nature. What if we all resolved to commit to being a beacon of God’s transforming love in this world? Les Miserables reminds us that to be a beacon of hope and love is as simple as seeing the goodness in the soul of all whom we meet, whether stranger, friend, or family. The beacon shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.
Happy New Year to one and all. May it be a year filled with love and hope.