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Friday, January 04, 2013
Les Miserables - Eleanor Shepherd
When I was in the seventh grade, our
class was required to read a book called Jean Val Jean. As I got into it, I loved the story. At the time, I had no idea that it was an
English translation of the classic by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables. One scene burned itself on my memory as I
read of the kindness of the priest, Father Bienvenue. Instead of choosing to condemn Jean Val Jean when
the gendarme brought him back to the priest’s house with the bag of silver that
he had stolen, the priest chose to offer grace.
He told the lawman that he had given the silver to Jean Val Jean. Then to give veracity to his story he
mentioned to the former prisoner that he had left behind the silver candle
holders and he should take them as well.
I was knocked over by this example of grace. It clearly became the
turning point in the life of Jean Val Jean.
All my life, I had been a part of
the church and while I had heard about a God of grace, He always seemed to be
overshadowed by the requirements of the law.
In the story of this priest’s kindness to the undeserving thief, I saw
someone choosing to respond with grace rather than with law. A new beginning was offered to Jean Val Jean.
I knew that was the message of the Christian faith, but I could not imagine
what it looked like until I saw such a graphic illustration of it in the
transformation of the life of this French convict. Something clicked inside me as understanding
of faith began to dawn and I knew that was the kind of faith that I
wanted. I saw how through the passing years,
the life of Jean Val Jean was transformed by an act of grace. He became a person who was motivated by grace. In response, I wanted to become someone who
understood such transformation. Today, I still long for that kind of a grace
filled life. The flame that was ignited by the book still burns.
When I was in my forties, I saw the
story of Jean Val Jean brought to the stage through the musical Les Miserables. This marvellous tale was brought to life to
me again and the desire to know and share grace was rekindled in me anew. The flame burned higher as the powerful songs
of the musical echoed in my heart and reaffirmed a truth I could not deny. There is a God of grace who is still in the
business of transforming our evil natures and making us good. By now, I had lived long enough to experience
some of that transformation myself and see it taking place in people around me.
I had also become even more aware of our need for such transformation, as I had
seen those whose lives were hopeless and could never change without such a
transformation. I was confronted by the evidence that grace is true and
powerful enough to change lives and love is the most powerful dynamite in our
Then, last week, I went into the
theatre with my popcorn and soft drink and sat down ready to enjoy the story
once again. The years have a way of
taking something that we once found powerful and dulling our senses to it. I remembered it as a story I loved. Les Miserables has now been released as a
movie. Having lived in France for
several years, the scenes were familiar to me.
As the tale began, I sat there with eyes glued to the screen, unable to
focus my attention on my snacks. I was not prepared for another confrontation
with the power of grace. I did not realize
that transforming love would grip my heart once more. Just as I had been when I
was twelve, I was overwhelmed as I witnessed the power of the story of a grace
that chooses the way of forgiveness rather than retribution. Now I have lived long enough to understand a
little more about the cost of such grace.
Yet still it overwhelms me and again calls me to open myself to
surrender to the power of such transforming love. It is my reason for hope at
the beginning of another year.