03 January, 2011

Of Absurdity and Adoration

Last Sunday, the first day of the New Year, was a miserable afternoon , so we stayed in and  we watched a dvd of “Les Miserables”
In fact – it was the 2005 special double disc collector's edition DVD of the 10th Anniversary Concert production (1995) of Cameron Mackintosh’s immensely popular adaptation of Frenchman Alain Boublil’s 1982 musical based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel of the same name.

What an incredible experience this was! A gut-wrenching, heart-stretching story, produced, staged and performed with awesomely creative excellence.

Enough of the adjectives! ~ If you are not one of the estimated 55 million people  of 21 different languages, in the 42 countries and 291 cities, who has experienced this Number 1 Must See performance in the world – I highly recommend it.

My own mind, and family opinion, was divided. Was it a story of hope, or a story of hoplessness? Of redemption - mercy triumphing over justice, or of miserable repetition - “things never change” ? Or, thanks for your insight Fred, of both?

The context is Paris, during the short-lived 1832 students’ insurrection against the slow pace of reform of King Louise Philippe’s constitutional monarchy and the continuing power and privilege of the aristocracy and the Roman Catholic clergy. The characters include a parole-jumping ex-con who can’t escape - but may redeem - his past, an over-zealous officer of the Law, a mother desperate to care for her daughter, of prostitutes and factory workers trapped in a cycle of poverty, idealistic student revolutionaries, and - as comic relief – a scurvy, lowdown  innkeeper and his and wife.

Early in the play the paroled Jean Valjean abuses the hospitality of a Roman Catholic cleric, steals silver vauables and runs away. On his capture he is taken back to the cleric, who, in an act of grace, tells the over zealous Inspector Javet that the silver was a gift to Valjean. There follows more human drama of despair and hope, of drudgery and devotion, of love and rejection, selfishness and self-sacrifice, of law and forgiveness, of the high idealism of youth colliding with the violent reality of a callous indifference to the peopl's suffering of the State and the Church.

The ambiguity with which Christian faith and the Church is portrayed possibly reflects author Victor Hugo’s (1802-1885) own conflicting background and his ambiguous opinions in religious and spiritual matters. His father  was an atheist republican and his mother was an extreme Catholic royalist.  By all accounts he was a deep believer, sometimes even a mystical one, but strongly anti-clerical. He was a passionate supporter of republicanism, and his poetry and novels touch on most of the political and social issues of his time, influencing
other socially conscious writers like Albert Camus, Charles Dickens, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

What I am realizing, at this start of this a new year, is the continuing ambiguity of my own life’s experience. I am, and perhaps you too may be, caught between hope and memory, full of great expectations, yet haunted by past failures; confronted by mysteries and absurdities, yet convinced of some Higher Purpose made manifest; a stranger in a strange land, strong yet vulnerable in the intimacies that love brings.

One moment sadly agreeing with Shakespeare that “Life… is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. Another moment ecstatically convinced, along with Roman Catholic priest and palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, of ”the diaphany (almost transparent epiphany) of the divine”,… “where the purple flush of matter fades imperceptibly into the golden glow of spirit, to be lost finally in the incandescence of a personal universe.”

Victor Hugo, the believer without a religion, in a particular time and place, once said: Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. 

Yet, in trying to bring together his spiritual vision of the world and a realistic, yet positive understanding of the history of humanity, Victor Hugo also said : “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake. 

I say that, somewhere between “God”, and  the “organized religion” Victor Hugo speaks of, Christ plays in Ten Thousand places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not His, to the Father through the features of (men’s) faces. (As Kingfishers catch fire)

May this year be a year we recognize the Truth, which is Grace, in all manner of misery and majesty, in all manner of absurdity and adoration we experience; in all manner of life situations, in all manner of people, and more and more in our own surrendered hearts and lives.


  1. Life is full of ambiguity, based on complexity. The more open, aware and thoughtful you are, the more this complexity becomes apparent.
    For mine, it really doesn't matter about the layers of abstraction we place onto life's complexity, as long as they don't serve to obscure that infinite complexity and our desire to explore that with open awareness and contemplation is undaunted.

  2. What beautiful and meaningful reflections. This is the first time on your blog and I can't wait to read more of your posts. I echo your prayer for the New Year. May we see God's grace and truth in all of our circumstances. May He be soveriegn in our lives, directing our hearts and actions to glorify His kingdom here on earth.
    Abundant blessings,