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Spiritual wisdom of ‘Les Miserables’

Spiritual wisdom of ‘Les Miserables’

Whether you have seen or plan to see the new movie “Les Miserables,” whether you loved the movie or hated it, Victor Hugo’s classic has spiritual implications worth pondering. At CNN’s religion blog, the Rev. Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, Episcopal priest and author of “God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom,” offers this wisdom about a bishop’s act of generosity toward the thief who has stolen his candlesticks, Jean Valjean:

The bishop’s act is a radical exercise of the Christian command to turn the other cheek, and it has a profound effect on Valjean. Stunned by the bishop’s forgiveness and the faith placed in him, Valjean sings, “One word from him, and I’d be back beneath the lash, upon the rack. Instead he offers me my freedom.

“I feel shame inside me like a knife. He told me that I have a soul. How does he know? What spirit came to move my life? Is there another way to go?”

A few moments later, Valjean answers his own question: Yes, there is another way. He commits to complete change in that moment, to change his name, his values, to become someone whose soul is God’s.

She goes on to note that even in days as difficult as ours today, “Jesus calls us to radical acts of hope, like those exercised by the bishop. These radical acts can manifest themselves in many different ways: in the exercise of justice, in granting mercy, in forgiveness, in love.” Read her full post here. And hum to yourself these words from the musical’s last act’: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”


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Re the ending—

Spoiler Space!!!!









…I was a bit mystified. Heaven is a revolutionary barricade?! No, I think Heaven is The Great Day *after* the revolution: meats, sweets, and heat for ALL Les (formerly) Miserable!

JC Fisher


I have seen the stage production of Les Miserables 4 times in 4 different cities, going back to its beginnings. (Haven’t yet seen the movie, probably will.) I remember so well even the first time being really touched by the spirituality of it, and that line about how you touch the face of God when you love somebody has given me chills and reduced me to a blubbering mess every time. How very true it is, and how much a better world this would be if we all recognized that — and *practiced* it.

Sarah Ridgway


I remember working as a classroom aide when a substitute teacher demonstrated this same power and impact. A student was acting up and, when asked to sit down, told the sub to “shut up.” The class got very quiet as the sub asked the student to join her out in the hall.

One minute later, the student returned, went straight to his desk, and got to work. Everyone was stunned; no one else acted out, wondering what on earth the sub had done to this student to have such an effect.

Afterwards, another aide and I asked the sub what on earth she had done. She told us she had gone in the hall and said, “You’re a good kid, right?” The student had agreed that, yes, he really was a good kid. She told him, “Let’s start over.” That was all it took.

I learned so much from her, about being faithful in the small things, about seeing the good in people, about not worrying about my status. “Radical” doesn’t have to mean “huge.” Or at any rate, I don’t think I would be able to take the bigger radical steps if I weren’t already practicing the small ones.

Laura Toepfer

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