For the first time in my life I didn’t spend Christmas with my parents and my siblings. Instead, I stayed in Abilene with Amanda (who had to work) and her parents.
On Christmas Day, we went to see the greatest musical of all time: Les Miserables (And, I might add, this film was absolutely wonderful! I’ve seen the stage production 5 times—including in London—and have listened to both the original soundtrack and the ten-year-anniversary soundtrack hundreds of times. I can safely say that this film is the best production of Les Mis I have yet seen.)
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I’ve lately been thinking about the purpose of life. And I don’t mean the abstract “meaning of life” business. I mean the grounded-in-reality purpose. The “why am I doing what I am doing right now?” purpose.
I don’t know how it is for everyone else, but I tend to make life about waiting impatiently for the next thing.
At work I am waiting for my chance to get home and relax.
In church I am waiting for the final Amen.
In class I am waiting for the dismissal.
Each semester is spent anticipating the coming break.
Each break is spent anticipating the classes I will have the following semester.
Each week is spent anticipating the weekend.
And I am so bored in line, scared of what I will meet at the end, and equally scared of what will happen if I leave. We wait in fear like vultures, circling ever tighter, caught by our hunger for dead and rotting flesh.
I suppose that’s true enough, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The diagnosis that all this waiting is borne out of a discontent with the world around us begins to get at the root cause.
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The fundamental reality of human existence is that stuff doesn’t work in the way it is supposed to. And, the fact that we have a sense of how things should be over and against how things are means we are not naturally screwed up people.
But we are fallen people. There is an echo, deep within our psyches, that resounds with the music of creation.
It’s a holdover from the beginning-of-it-all.
Then Ilúvatar said to them: “Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.” (from the beginning to Tolkien’s Silmarillion)
The music of creation goes forth in each of us, accomplishing great beauty, though it is marred by our fall.
And so we wait. And are impatient. And discontent because we anticipate a day when it will all be better.
We are dissatisfied with now because we want it to be better. And while this often looks silly—looking forward to the weekend, or the night off, or Christmas break—it this is lack of satisfaction in the way things are that produces art.
The disjunct between what it and what should be.
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Aside from Tolkien’s creation, Les Miserables is my favorite work of art. And, while there is so much for me to say about Les Mis (redemption, love, inclusion, justice), I will content myself with this:
Les Mis recognizes, and affirms, the awful tension between what is and what should be: it trumpets that love has overcome the world.
Les Mis proclaims the Gospel.
Rejecting violence, revenge, and hatred Jean Valjean embodies that cruciform life as he loves all those around him, especially his enemy Javert.
The musical rejects violent revolution as a means to success even as it affirms the ideals of the revolution.
The finale subverts the song of the revolution. In this, the eschatology of Les Mis proclaims the coming Kingdom:
Do you hear the people sing?
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise
They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord
They will walk behind the ploughshare
They will put away the sword
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!
Because the truth of Les Mis is that Love—weak and slippery as it is—is the means by which the world is put back to rights.
And this Love comes through suffering.
For to love another person is to see the face of God.