Twenty years ago I had just become a born again Christian. I gave my life to Jesus. At the Probation Day Centre we would go on trips to various places. The first was to the Tate Gallery in London. On another trip we went to watch the musical Les Miserables, which I had never heard of before. We entered the theatre and took our seats.
The show began and I was doing alright until the part when the lead character, Jean Valjean, stayed at the Bishop’s house. He abused the Bishop’s hospitality by stealing his silver. When he was arrested by the police he lied and said that the Bishop had given it to him. The police brought him back to the house. However, the Bishop said that Valjean had spoken the truth. He went on to say, “But my friend, you left so early, would you leave the best behind?” Then he handed Valjean the silver candle sticks and the police released him.
Valjean went on his way but it was not long before he realised what the Bishop had done for him. The Bishop had shown him mercy, in the same way Jesus had for us when he died on the Cross. This really touched me because I had just become a Christian and the experience was still fresh in my memory.
Over the years I have seen two non-musical film versions of Les Miserables. In one, Liam Neeson and John Malkovich played Valjean and Javert, respectively. In another, the roles were played by Gerard Depardieu and Geoffrey Rush. When I joined ACT! Pastorate we went to the Queen’s Theatre to watch the musical again. More recently, the big movie with Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe was on release in cinemas and I went to the Odeon Magdalen Street cinema to watch it.
The first part of the film passed without incident then it got to the part where Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway, sang the song ‘I dreamed a dream’ (the song that had made Susan Boyle famous, but that’s another story). As I say, as I watched her sing this song I realized that big tears were rolling down my face. That night, after I had recovered my composure, I went to the ACT! Pastorate at St. Aldate’s Church. There, Peter talked about rejection and I started to cry again. It was only then that I realized that God was doing something. I went to the Gatehouse and went onto the internet. I watched Les Miserables on YouTube and my eyes filled with tears again. Later, I bought the CD of the cast recording and I asked God what was going down with me.
I prayed and God answered me, saying, “Listen to the last words of the song.” I listened and when I heard Fantine sing: “…life has killed the dream I dreamed,” the penny finally dropped and I understood that life had killed my dreams. That’s what was touching my heart.
So life had killed my dreams but the story doesn’t stop there. To quote Shakespeare: “What light at your window breaks?” The picture is you are lying on the floor. You are bruised, battered and bleeding and hurting inside, all your dreams are smashed. But the big light is shining on you. The light has a life giving presence. When you look up you can see Jesus, the light of the world, standing in front of you and his life giving a presence. He can reignite your dreams and give you new life. Life may have killed your dreams but God can give you new ones and the power to carry them out. With Jesus there is another chapter and another and another and another.
I was looking for something to do for Lent. So I went down to Blackwell’s bookshop. After a few minutes I found a book on Les Miserables, which is set during Lent. The book is in five sections. The first section is about Jean Valjean. At the start of Chapter 3 there is a reading from the book of Ezekiel:
And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
This passage always renews my spirit and gives me courage.
Since moving to Headington from Jericho I have bought different versions of Les Miserables, including the 1935 version with Fredric March, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Charles Laughton and the 1952 version with Michael Rennie, Debra Paget and Robert Newton. I learned recently that a girl from the Isle of Man, where I am from, called Samantha Barks, played the part of Eponine in the 2012 film version and at the 25th anniversary celebration of the musical at London’s O2 Arena.
I have been trying to read the book Les Miserables but it was very hard going to start with, like swimming through peanut butter. But by page 297 it began to open up before me. How Jean Valjean and Cosette’s shattered lives come together. I continue to read the book and God reveals more to me. I am thinking about going down to the Queen’s Theatre for the third time to watch the stage show. The last time I was down there was in 2005. (I had seen down a side street near the theatre a Vietnamese restaurant, so maybe I have an alternative motive for going down there again!) But I am excited to learn more of God’s wisdom through Victor Hugo’s story. Watch this space.