les misérables and the force of grace

I’ve seen the Les Misérables movie twice three times now.  I know all the words to the musical (I was a stellar chorus member in high school) and I was not disappointed with the movie.  This story is so powerful.  I’ll probably have something to say about revolutionaries quite soon (ugh!), but what most impressed me was the way that the movie didn’t shy away from the central message.  In Les Mis, I’ve hardly seen a more beautiful depiction of the gospel, especially in its most baffling component – grace.

The entire story tracks the lives of its central characters, weaving in and out of different people’s stories, and it can get confusing.  But grace and mercy are the threads that tie them all together as the story continues, and Hugo shows that even though we may want to ignore it sometimes, grace refuses to stay passive.  Each time, it becomes a crossroad of the most dramatic and life-changing proportions.

The bishop is the first man who has shown Valjean any grace in a long time.  When the bishop welcomes Valjean into his home, the man is taken aback, stunned, and shouts out that he’s a dangerous convict – an outcast.  Instead of treating him as such, the bishop looks at Valjean as a friend, calling him brother.  This simple kindness causes an uproar in Valjean’s soul as he struggles with whether or not he should steal the bishop’s silver.  There is an entire chapter in the novel that compares the torment of the convict’s soul with a drowning man, saying that “the soul, going down stream in this gulf, may become a corpse.  Who shall resuscitate it?”  Reminiscent of Romans 7:24, Valjean’s hardened heart can only be softened by God’s power.  Valjean is a dangerous man because he has allowed hate to rule him, and when he is presented with love, he cannot accept it.  He steals the silver, effectively choosing imprisonment forever.

But.

The bishop pardons him, claiming that the stolen goods were a gift.  If the welcome into the bishop’s home was inconceivable, Valjean is now presented with the most life changing paradigm shift of his entire existence.  It is grace unbound.  He deserved imprisonment and death, and the bishop handed him love and life.  He was emancipated by this mercy.  He did not get what he deserved.  Grace forces a decision on Valjean, a stark contrast between life and death.  And he chooses life.

After being shown grace, Valjean effectively becomes a carrier, pouring the same love out into the town of which he becomes the mayor.  And then he meets Fantine, who has fallen so far from the beautiful, innocent girl that she was into a dying, miserable woman who has turned to prostitution in order to support her daughter.  She, too, has let hatred worm its way into her heart, and she despises Valjean for letting her be driven away from his factory.

Inspector Javert, the man ruled entirely by Law and not at all by gospel, is about to imprison Fantine when Valjean comes in to pardon her and take her to the hospital.  He becomes the agent of grace to the dying woman, offering her a choice.  And this action astonishes both Fantine and Javert:

“Javert felt that he was on the verge of going mad.  He experienced at that moment, blow upon blow and almost simultaneously, the most violent emotions which he had ever undergone in all his life… When he beheld that mayor, that magistrate, calmly wipe his face and say, “Set this woman at liberty,” he underwent a sort of intoxication of amazement”

Javert is shaken; however, he does not waver.  He resolidifies into the man of law that he was before, putting his shock aside.  Fantine, however, lets herself be repossessed by grace.

“Had she, then, been mistaken? Must she change her whole soul? She did not know; she trembled.  She listened in bewilderment, she looked on in affright, and at every word uttered by M. Madeleine (Valjean) she felt the frightful shades of hatred crumble and melt within her, and something warm and ineffable, indescribable, which was both joy, confidence, and love, dawn in her heart.”

Although Fantine dies, she has chosen life as well.  She had pleaded to die instead of her daughter, and this exchange of grace and life carries through.  Valjean shows grace to her daughter, Cosette, literally buying her out of bondage to the Thenardiers and raising her into newness of life.  Cosette innocently accepts the gift.

Grace changes the lives of all of these characters in a radical way, but it is a gift that must be received in order to be effective.  It forces a choice between death and life, but not everyone can choose to live in a radically changed world.

Least of all Javert.

I’ve heard people criticize the policeman for being overdramatic, but can you imagine what he goes through when Valjean sets him at liberty?  Javert feels as though he is going mad when he simply witnesses Valjean giving Fantine her freedom – how on earth could he rationally comprehend his state when Valjean, a convict and a sinner, shows grace to Javert himself, giving him back his very life?  The seams of Javert’s world begin to rip apart, and everything that he once knew is turned inside out.  Every paradigm that he had relied on in his life has burst apart, crumbling.  Javert’s world is ordered and clean, black and white, and in it, everyone receives what he deserves.  For him, there are no “minor sins”.  He leaves no room for grace in his adherence to the law, but yet, it finds him.

Javert’s world has been irrevocably destroyed.  Before, he could try to ignore grace, but now that it has been given directly and obviously to him, he cannot pretend that nothing has changed.  He must “stare into the void / Of a world that cannot hold” and choose between the desolation of what he knows and a new, very different, life.  He must choose, more literally than any other character, between life and death.

Because he cannot deal with the world as grace has colored it, he kills himself, choosing to leave it behind forever.

Javert and Valjean are not so different, really.  They both wanted to serve God.  While Valjean was consumed by hatred, Javert let legalism take over his soul.  They both were shown grace in part, and then in its full glory.  But Valjean had the strength to follow God’s path, and Javert, while telling himself that he was following the Lord, followed his own humanity into death.  When Valjean leaps into the river to escape Javert, it is a baptism.  When Javert does the same to escape Valjean, it is death by water.

I think that we forget how powerful a thing grace is.  It’s either life-altering or life-destroying.  It is a force to be reckoned with, and yet, we take it for granted every day.  We deserved to die, and Jesus showed us his pardon, setting us at liberty and raising us from death to life.  “You are free,” He tells us, like Valjean, “and there are no conditions”.  Well, that’s not entirely true – He has traded places with us, giving up His life.

How will we respond? We cannot ignore it.  We must either accept this gift in love and let it transform our lives and our very selves, or we must throw it aside and choose to die instead.  We cannot live as we had before.  We must return the favor by giving Him our lives.

This is the heart of Les Misérables, and I love seeing the ripple effect of grace as it reaches each person.  Valjean is showed grace and then shows it to others.  This is a perfect picture of how Christians should live their lives every day.  We have been shown grace by someone even more wonderful than the bishop of Digne, and we can’t keep it to ourselves.  We continue to pass it on, mimicking God’s grace in the lives of others so that they too can show grace to the people they encounter.  It’s beautiful.  And if we truly understand how powerful a movement grace should be, it cannot be kept a pretty secret.

><>

Advertisements

music.

First of all, I’m terribly sorry I’ve not updated recently.  Secondly, (just as a heads up), I’m going to be on vacation for all of June (I leave tomorrow! Weird).  I may get a chance to post something while I’m gone, but it’s very doubtful.  I’ll have plenty to say when I get home, though.  Okay on to the real post!

This will be fairly quick, because there is SO MUCH I could say on this subject and not enough words to adequately convey my feelings.  During exam week, I’d been listening to quite a lot of Pandora, which is nice because I don’t have to worry about picking each song.  But every once in a while, a song will catch me off guard, gently pull at my heart, buffet me until I listen to it again, and grow on me every time I hear it.  I would listen to a hundred songs just to find one like this that touches something internal and refuses to budge.

I think it has to be a combination of lyrics and melody for it to stick.  The actual music is clearly more important, because there are hundreds of gorgeous, gorgeous pieces without any words at all that move me in a way that I really don’t understand (hello, Beethoven).  But I love it when the chords surprise you and the lyrics inspire or incite or raise up some emotion or make you think about something in a new way, and think deeply… And the two things, working together, intertwine to create something absolutely wonderful and amazing.

A few weeks ago I found myself literally tearing up at a song because of… just everything about it.  Music is relatable, and touching, and somehow creeps into your very heartbeat, taking something from creationand repurposing it.  It’s made up of sound, of vibrations – it literally moves you.  I think, of all of our senses, we tend to take hearing for granted.  Listen, right now.  There’s a lot happening around you that you’re barely aware of.

Anyway.  It’s a beautiful connection when their intensity and emotions somehow move me into emotion.  A bond is formed there, and you’re torn between wanting to share the song with everyone you meet and wanting to hold it close to your soul to play it on repeat as your personal anthem.  It’s intensely personal and wonderfully communal all at the same time.  Music both unites and speaks to you as an individual.  I don’t understand it, but it’s a beautiful thing.

So, yeah.  Heh.  If you couldn’t tell, I sort of love music, and the way it gets inside of you, and the power behind a good song.  Even the amount I sing in the shower is a pretty good indicator of my happiness and/or need for catharsis.  I’ve got so much to say about music in general, but I’ll leave it at that.

Recent obsessions:

Australia, The ShinsI love this.  I just… I just love it.

Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley.  I was actually crying at this.  Also I couldn’t decide between the above version and this one.

Little Talks, Of Monsters and Men.  I can’t take how beautiful this song/ the described relationship is.

Down in the Valley, The Head and the Heart.  I actually love Lost in my Mind just as much as the above (if not more?), but the music video is pretty and you can watch it at that link.

Breathe, Anna NalickI just… really like this.  Alright.

Old favorites that never get old:

Awakening, Switchfoot I think that hearing this in middle school was one of the first times I realized how cool music is.  It still makes me happy.

Death and All His Friends, Coldplay.  There’s… there’s something special about this one.  It always, very gently, touches something inside of me, calms me town, or makes me tear up.

ANY MUMFORD AND SONS EVER.  I can’t even tell you how good they are.  Sigh No More is one of the only physical CDs I own.  Here’s Awake My Soul.

Alright, my dears.  If I continued on with all the songs that I love, this would be far too long, so I’ll leave you with some Queen and Boston.  I hope you like classic rock.

><>

good friday

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, wehave peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And weboast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”  Romans 5:1-11

God’s love is absolutely unfathomable.

We are terrible.  Fallen.  Rebellious and turned away from God, refusing him and choosing our own sin.  We think we can live without him, we blame him for things, we fall.

And yet.

God loves us.

We’re absolutely awful, and He still loves us enough to take the punishment that we deserved.  I talked to someone yesterday about this, why we need faith at all, or why God can’t just forgive people.  And I didn’t have a fantastic answer to that, because it’s a very tough question.

But I thought through it a little bit.  God must be both just and loving.  If God wasn’t a God of justice who punished wrongdoing, then He wouldn’t be a good God.  And we wouldn’t want to follow a God that’s not good.  That’s just… crazy.  A just God must rule the universe, and so we must be punished.  We deserve to be punished.

But God is also loving.  He wants to share that perfect love with us, and bring us to Him forever.

The sin, however, still stands.  The damage has been done (by us), and somebody must pay for it.  Somebody has to take the blame.  Forgiveness always comes at a cost… and He took that on Himself.  He absorbed our blame when He died on the cross and took the weight of sin upon himself on our behalf.  And as He took that sin upon himself, God turned away from Him in that moment.  Can you imagine? It’s like being ripped apart from yourself.  And he did this all freely– John says that He gave up his spirit.  It was a conscious choice, for you and me.

It’s the most beautiful story I’ve ever heard.  I think this is part of the reason that stories of sacrificial love resonate so strongly with us– because it’s an eternal truth, one that we find beautiful. A Tale of Two Cities is still one of my favorite books because of the profound sacrifice of Sydney Carton (sorry if I spoiled it…).  Sacrifice is beautiful because it’s true and it’s happened for us.

The story gets even more beautiful with the resurrection from the dead, the craziest, awesomest, and most pivotal event in history.  It gives us eternal life and reconciliation.

Death for life.

Happy Good Friday, and, (if I don’t come back soon), Happy Easter!

><>

the human body

I was walking back and forth in my dorm’s elevator when I noticed the slight, contented ache of a good day of walking in my legs.  In that moment, I thought all of the ropy muscles in my thighs, calves, and feet, imagining them straining and relaxing, bunching themselves up and stretching themselves out with every step or shift of weight.  The fact that I can do something like walking is amazing.  Each muscle works perfectly with the others so easily that I don’t even have to think about what to do with each one and what’s pulling what in which direction.

Our bodies are absolutely fantastic.  I can’t even… just think of the complexity of it for a second.  There are so many different systems in the body, with the brain controlling the whole thing, and everything works together in delicate balance in order for us to even function.  It’s a miracle that we work so much of the time, really.  It’s beautiful, the way that we’re so specifically and perfectly knitted together.  I think this is part of the reason why I’m still struggling with the decision to be premed or not, because I’m so drawn to the magnificent beauty of the human body (more on this later, probably).

I was lying in bed this week, trying (somewhat fruitlessly) to fall asleep, when I slid my hand over my own heart and just felt my heartbeat for a while.  As I focused, I could feel it fluttering there in my chest, keeping me alive, pumping with each beat.  I noticed how one side beat harder than the other, how it was stronger on the left side than the right.  I could feel it sending my blood shooting out into my extremities, pulsing and circulating throughout my entire body and reaching my fingers until I felt the heartbeat in my hand and my chest.

But my first impression struck me the most.  As I lie there with my hand over my heart, I was suddenly reminded of a memory.  When I was younger, we found a tiny gray-and-white kitten that we brought home for a few short weeks before realizing that it was much too young to be with us.  We named it Mischief and cared for it very carefully, holding it, giving it baths, and giving it a stuffed animal to snuggle with at night.  As sad as my brother and I were to see the kitten go, we were glad it was back with its mother.

I remember holding Mischief to my chest, one hand underneath him and the other keeping him close.  As he nestled into the folds of my t-shirt, I could feel his tiny heartbeat in my fingers.  The skin, bone, and fur that separated his heart from my hand seemed paper-thin, and I could feel every quick beat through his delicate ribcage.

As I lay in bed, my own heart felt like that.  I felt so… vulnerable.  I was suddenly aware of my own fragility and of the delicacy of the thin layer of material that guards that organ that preserves my life.  My life is so brief.  I could be killed in a second.

It’s a marvel to be alive.  Every detail is so perfectly crafted… you’re fearfully and wonderfully made.  I was walking home from the library Monday night (more like Tuesday morning), praying as I trekked back to my dorm.  As I looked around, and thought about these same wonders of existing, I had to stop because I realized this:

God is the God of the entire universe.  He created everything in it, and designed it – I stopped for a while to look at trees.  How do you even think up trees? And the form helps it stay alive as well (google photosynthesis… haha). One of the things I really love about creation, too, is the way something can be both functional and beautiful.  Like our bodies.

So, God made the universe.  He designed everything specifically, including us.  As beings created in the image of the eternal God (!), we are the pinnacle of creation.  I paused while typing that, because it seems conceited… but people are more important than animals or nature.  We’re the only animals with souls.  And after God created us on the sixth day, he didn’t just call us good, but very good.

And this all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of everything we can and can’t see, this inconceivably wonderful and mighty God… loves us.

We can talk to Him. Just… just stop for a second.  We can talk to the God of the universe.  It blew my mind when I realized it.  I’m so unworthy of speaking to Him.  I’ve been praying for so long, and I whine and moan about tests and lost belongings and my shallow, petty feelings.  It’s infinitely crazier than going to up to the President and asking him to scratch that itch on your back that you can’t reach, or help you clean out your fridge or listen to you talk about your favorite TV show.

And He still listens, because He loves us so much.  Even when we whine about the stupid things that really don’t matter, He lets us talk.

I think that I need to start taking prayer more seriously.  Sometimes we get so carried away with the whole God-is-love, God-is-my-friend mentality that we forget how awesome He truly is.  Yes, of course those things are true.  But He’s also the ruler of everything, the God of everything that has been and will be, the Eternal Creator who created time itself.  He holds infinite power, and He still cares about us.

That’s a little bit mind-blowing.

><>

“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

Anatomy of the Human Heart

Muscular System

nothing else matters.

“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.  When human souls have beome as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.” Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis

Last night, I went to a worship event in another state.  It was sort of a spur of the moment decision, but it was one of the best ones I’ve made in a while.  Clearly, it was a lot of fun, and I got to bond with people, have milkshakes, and be silly afterwards.  But the actual worship was fantastic.

I worry about the same things a lot.  My thoughts cycle through future job woes, how I’m dreadfully undecided, the amount of homework I have, etc.  But, here’s the thing.

It doesn’t matter.

Jobs, your future, work, what you’re going to wear, problems in your social life.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do our best in these things (because of course we should).  But in the long run, they don’t matter at all.  When it comes right down to it, this world will pass, and you and I will pass, and we can’t take anything with us when we are translated over except our souls.

Nothing matters but Jesus, and what he’s done, and who he is, and what he’s sacrificed for us.  He loves us astoundingly, amazingly, in such a way that we can’t even comprehend the volume of his love.  He came to us, even though we don’t deserve it, and gave his very life in order to share it with us.

It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

I can’t remember much of the particulars of the worship night.  I don’t remember exactly which songs we sang, or if the band was good, or what the content was exactly of my desperate, fervent, muttered prayers.

But I remember the peace of the God of the universe filling me up until I thought I would overflow or burst or laugh or cry, and I remember God grabbing my heart and refusing to let go.  I remember knowing that he was there, with us, ready to take us in and change us entirely and turn our lives upside down in order to put them back together in a better way that centers completely on Him.

He’s still here with me, now.  And I know that he’s not going to leave.

It doesn’t matter what I end up doing, as long as I’m doing it for Him.  I pray that he’d take away my pride and fallen-ness and fill me up so much with the Holy Spirit that his love would flow out of me and reach those that need him desperately.

I hope I won’t lose sight of what’s important.  And I know I will, at least a little bit.  I still live in this world, and that will distract me.  I have to be refreshed every day and refocus on what truly matters.  But one day, we’ll get there.  One day we will truly understand the weight of God’s glory.

><>

Read this: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

Romans 8 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8&version=NIV )

Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis: http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf  .  I really struggled with finding a quote to start this post off with because every word of this is absolutely amazing.  READ IT!!!

a brief heart report

I need to write something.

Not because I feel a burning desire to do so, because it’s boiling up in my chest and behind my solar plexus in that little hollow where my heart meets my soul and I need to get it out because I’ll burst if I don’t.

It’s because I don’t feel like that.

Maybe it’s the fact that school starts again tomorrow, but I don’t feel much, or have much to say at the moment.

And that scares me a little bit.

><>

Read this:  He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;    I will be exalted among the nations,    I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10
i.e., I’ll be just fine.

john donne

XIV

Batter my heart, three-person’d God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Oh John Donne.  You cad, you.

You should know that Donne is one of my favorite poets.  I feel like I’m ruining his poem with these comments below it.  But something about this poem thrills my heart and fills me with a totally unknown feeling.  The flutter of some magnificent bird rising in my chest… It’s agitation and peace sharing my soul at the same time.  And it’s absolutely… well, ravishing.  This is God’s love: violently strong, beautiful, and life-changing.

><>