Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hope, Love, Faith

Photo Credit: Madison Busick
My long-time friend and supporter and an amazing photographer! Check out her awesome blog!
I had a particularly religious Easter today, considering I am usually not a very religious person. It is not that I do not believe in God; it's not that I don't pray. Because I do believe in God, and I pray regularly. However, I have always struggled with conforming to the doctrine of a religion. I am Catholic and my grandparents are all religious, but neither of my parents are regular church-goers. I didn't grow up committed to weekly mass; I have never felt a strong connection to my church community.

I wish I did. Some of my friends are close with their youth ministry groups and I think it's a fantastic way to be part of the community. Is there something wrong with me? Is there some part of this whole "religion thing" that I'm not getting?

As I said earlier, I believe in God. But going to mass every Sunday doesn't make me feel any closer to least not at the church I go to. Good sermons are rare there; it feels like mass is always the same. The preachings feel...outdated. And I can't grasp anything out of the Bible readings because I don't know what to listen for. What are the most important parts?

For whatever reason my body decided 4am was enough sleep for the day, so after an hour of trying to fall asleep, I decided to no longer fight it. What else to do at 5am on a Sunday than read "Les Mis?" 

Still curled up in bed, I flicked on my bedside lamp and curled up with my favorite purple pen to relish one of my favorite books. The chapters I read today were apropos for Easter Sunday. They talked about 19th-century religion, particularly the monasteries and convents of the Bernardine nuns––Jean Valjean hides with Cosette in the Petit-Picpus convent (founded by Spaniard Martin Verga) after rescuing her from the Thénardiers and escaping Javert once again. The nuns living in the Petit-Picpus convent live a strict life, to say the least. They fast several days a week, one nun must at all times be praying for the sins of the world, no men are allowed in the convent except the archbishop of the diocese and the gardener (who the convent makes wear a bell to warn the nuns of his approach), among other things. One interesting custom I read was about the induction of the novices. Victor Hugo described it as the following:

On the day when a novice makes her profession, she is dressed in herhandsomest attire, she is crowned with white roses, her hair isbrushed until it shines, and curled. Then she prostrates herself;a great black veil is thrown over her, and the office for the deadis sung. Then the nuns separate into two files; one file passesclose to her, saying in plaintive accents, "Our sister is dead";and the other file responds in a voice of ecstasy, "Our sister isalive in Jesus Christ!"

In other words, the nuns attempt to make themselves dead on Earth so that they may be closer with God. This idea is difficult for me to grasp. After all, didn't God put us on this Earth for a reason? To live it? To live it in the image of his son, Jesus Christ? 

After pondering these chapters for about an hour, the sun had risen so I went for a run in the trails. I felt like I was being reborn, as if I too had been resurrected. It is times like these I feel closest to God. 

Cutting it a little close on time (as always) my family and I did something we rarely do: we went to church, or rather, we went to the non-denominational chapel my younger cousins go to.  It's an entirely different experience from the sermons I'm used to. There's lots of music and singing––not traditional gospel songs, but more modern religious ones. Everyone is up out of their seats and happy.

But what really struck me was how relatable the pastor made everything. With my good fortune, the sermon was centered around "Les Mis." The pastor cleverly tied in the mourning of Mary Magdalene over Jesus' death–some people theorize that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute and Jesus' lover–with Fantine. A girl of about my age sang Fantine's song "I Dreamed A Dream. "I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living," she sings. The pastor talked about how Mary Magdalene, like Fantine and like many of us in some point of our lives, had a dream that was different from what her life turned out to be––a life without Jesus. And with this, the pastor talked about hope––how hope is only empty wishing if it lacks reason. Mary Magdalene had given up hope; she believed she had nothing left to live for, so she wept. "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" (John 20:15) Jesus asked Mary after rising from the dead. She did not recognize him at first, but when she did, all hope was restored. Jesus was that hope. She clung to him, but he said to her, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (20:17). 

The pastor talked about how Jesus is the hope living within us, because Jesus lives within us. Life does not cease on Earth. When we lose someone we love, we will see them again someday. As Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil write in their musical:

Expanding on the "Les Mis" references, the pastor also talked about how Victor Hugo–the author of "Les Mis"–struggled with religion during his life. He believed in God but disagreed with many of the beliefs of the church. Where did he stand? Who was God to him? This morning I read one of my favorite chapters I have read in "Les Mis" thus far, in which Hugo questions God, infinity, and existence.

Volume II, Book Seventh, Chapter V-Prayer

They pray.

To whom?

To God.

To pray to God,--what is the meaning of these words?

Is there an infinite beyond us? Is that infinite there, inherent,
permanent; necessarily substantial, since it is infinite; and because,
if it lacked matter it would be bounded; necessarily intelligent,
since it is infinite, and because, if it lacked intelligence, it would
end there? Does this infinite awaken in us the idea of essence,
while we can attribute to ourselves only the idea of existence?
In other terms, is it not the absolute, of which we are only the relative?

At the same time that there is an infinite without us, is there
not an infinite within us? Are not these two infinites (what an
alarming plural!) superposed, the one upon the other? Is not this
second infinite, so to speak, subjacent to the first? Is it not
the latter's mirror, reflection, echo, an abyss which is concentric
with another abyss? Is this second infinity intelligent also?
Does it think? Does it love? Does it will? If these two infinities
are intelligent, each of them has a will principle, and there is an
I in the upper infinity as there is an I in the lower infinity.
The I below is the soul; the I on high is God.

To place the infinity here below in contact, by the medium of thought,
with the infinity on high, is called praying.

Let us take nothing from the human mind; to suppress is bad.
We must reform and transform. Certain faculties in man are directed
towards the Unknown; thought, revery, prayer. The Unknown is
an ocean. What is conscience? It is the compass of the Unknown.
Thought, revery, prayer,--these are great and mysterious radiations.
Let us respect them. Whither go these majestic irradiations
of the soul? Into the shadow; that is to say, to the light.

The grandeur of democracy is to disown nothing and to deny nothing
of humanity. Close to the right of the man, beside it, at the least,
there exists the right of the soul.

To crush fanaticism and to venerate the infinite, such is the law.
Let us not confine ourselves to prostrating ourselves before the tree
of creation, and to the contemplation of its branches full of stars.
We have a duty to labor over the human soul, to defend the mystery
against the miracle, to adore the incomprehensible and reject
the absurd, to admit, as an inexplicable fact, only what is necessary,
to purify belief, to remove superstitions from above religion;
to clear God of caterpillars.

With all these questions and with chapters like this, "Les Misérables" is still considered a very religious book. Book Seventh is called "Parenthesis," which many say is due to the fact that Book Seventh does little to progress the plot. This may be so, but it doesn't mean it is "pointless" or by any means "random"; someone as brilliant as Victor Hugo wouldn't put thirteen pages in "just because he felt like it." 

Book Seventh is essential to the plot because it addresses the question of religion, of God, and of faith, all of which are themes that are essential to recognize and to ponder if one wants to read "Les Mis" with any level of depth. 

And shouldn't we all always be questioning? No matter what it is? Maybe we should take a lesson from the five-year-old, who always wants to know "why" (unless of course our parents ask us to take out the trash, in which case it doesn't matter why we have to do it, we just better do it). 

As Claude-Michel Shönberg and Alain Boublil wrote:

I'm not sure I believe God created this Earth and everything on it. I may be a dreamer, but there's also the realist in me that just can't fathom that idea. But I do believe in some higher being. I see God in all that is beautiful and all that is good. I see God in the frosty 7am trails. I see God in my friend who goes out of his way to talk to the shy boy in class. I see God in the big blue eyes of my little cousin as she asks if I can "please the blue egg dye." 

But maybe "seeing God" isn't what I mean. Maybe a more accurate way to think about it for me is to feel God––like I feel God's presence when I'm running on the beach. I might challenge Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil and say, maybe "To love another person is to feel the hands of God." 

Yes. Even "Les Mis" can be questioned.

Never stop questioning. Never stop hoping. Never stop believing, whether that be in God, in yourself, in others, in humanity, whatever it is you believe in. And whatever that thing is, believe it with all your heart.

Wishing you all "a heart full of love" in the week to come!


Maddie said...

Thanks for the shout out! I hope you had a happy Easter, awesome post!

Megan said...

Same to you, Maddie! I hope the nicer weather is giving you lots of inspiration for photos!