Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Marked Woman

On December 31, 2012, I saw Les Miserables.

That movie has marked me.

I kind of knew the story going into it, but I didn't remember the specifics. I knew a few of the songs - also in a very general way. Now, four weeks later, I know the story. I know the songs.

I went with my family (sans Luke) to a theater in Kansas City to see it. We had driven up there to spend the night before our 6:30 a.m. flight to the Seattle, WA, area. We had deliberately put off seeing the movie. We had "saved" it for this time before our midwinter vacation. With all the hype, we were all very eager to see it.

The tone was set from the get-go. Brutally real drama...and singing. All singing all the time. Next to no dialogue. Was that going to get annoying?

Nope. At least not for me. Because after one of the very early scenes, I was emotionally rocked.

Valjean, convicted and marked for life thief, who had enjoyed a meal and place to sleep because the Bishop had pity on him, had just been apprehended and brought back to the Bishop's house after stealing much of his silver. The Bishop, instead of condemning Valjean and sending him back to prison, tells the police that the stolen silver was, as Jean Valjean had told the officials, a gift. That blessed Bishop then sang the following words to "his friend."

That is right.
But my friend you left so early
Surely something slipped your mind

[The bishop gives Valjean two silver candlesticks.]
You forgot I gave these also
Would you leave the best behind?
So Messieurs you may release him
For this man has spoken true
I commend you for your duty
May God's blessing go with you.
But remember this, my brother
See in this some higher plan
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man
By the witness of the martyrs
By the Passion and the Blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have saved your soul for God!

My first thought after watching this scene was, "I would have never done what the Bishop just did." 

Never. I would have sent Valjean's ungrateful self back with the police. I would not have given him mercy, and I definitely would not have given him grace.

Over the last few years, I have been trying to wrap my mind around the concept of grace as the Bible describes it. I have to confess. I just haven't gotten it. I've heard the acronym for grace all my Christian life: God's Riches At Christ's Expense.  I sort of get it, but not really. When I saw the above described scene in this very real, very raw movie, I felt like my some of my grace blinders fell off.

Mercy is not sending Valjean back. Mercy is not getting what you deserve.
Grace is giving him the candlesticks. Grace is getting what you don't deserve.

The Bishop's faith in who God is and what He has said in his word is so rock solid that he can give mercy and grace (and precious, real silver) to a thief, completely trusting the consequences of all those gifts to God.

Do I believe what God says that much?

Will I trust Him and show more mercy? Will I trust Him and show more grace?

Could I ever, in a hundred years, take something from my house that was as valuable as those candlesticks and give them to anybody, let alone a complete stranger - a thief? How do you get to that place?

The movie had just started and I was reeling.

That mercy and grace lesson was reverberating in my soul as I watched the rest of the movie. More than one scene made my soul ache. More than one scene made me wince and yet, I didn't shed a tear.  I’ve talked with others who saw the movie. They mentioned crying throughout. I didn’t. 

Then came the scene where Jean Valjean died. It started with a beautiful ghostly Fantine singing. “Monsieur, I bless your name...” 

Jean Valjean, dying, laboriously whispers, “I am ready Fantine.”

“Monsieur, lay down your burden.”

“At the end of my days...”

“You raised my child in love..”

“She’s the best of my life...”

“And you will be with God.”

At this point, Cossette and Marius come in. There is forgiveness and affirmation of love between them and Jean Valjean. Then Fantine comes in again:

"Come with me
Where chains will never bind you.
All your grief at last, at last, behind you.
Lord in heaven, look down on him in mercy!"

Valjean responds:

Forgive me all my trespasses
and take me to your glory


Take my hand, I'll lead you to salvation
Take my love, for love is everlasting,
And remember the truth that once was spoken
To love another person is to see the face of God!

Valjean's giving, loving life that resulted in this kind of freeing death was the fruition of the seed of grace shown to him by the Bishop. The realization of the power of grace - the effect that an act of grace can have in a life - was, at this point, overwhelming to me. And I started to cry.

And I could not stop. Not for quite a while.

I think I halfway freaked out the kids. They just kept staring at me and asking, "Are you ok?" By the time we arrived at a restaurant for dinner, I was, thankfully, under control. 

It's been 4 weeks. I've been aching to write this post. I'm still thinking about grace and mercy and the bishop and God. I can think of two instances since seeing the movie - since being convicted so mightily about what grace is and what it might look like - where I have been about to live out what I consider "justice" and then purposely chosen grace instead. That's such a huge miracle for me. I'm sure I've had more than those two opportunities in those weeks, but I'll take those two for now.

Two baby steps on what I hope becomes a more grace filled life.

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