Friday, December 14, 2007

Reflections on Grace & The Phantom of the Opera

Yesterday was an important day for me. It marked 2 years since God moved into my life in such a significant way that I could not continue to ignore Him and the fact that He is entitled to my love and worship. Ever since that day life has never been the same. I think there’s a really good reason why the bible refers to the process of becoming a Christian as being “born again”, because in SO many ways my life really started then. Also that image that is captured in baptism, of dying with Christ and being raised again with Him is so true. Who I was, what I wanted, what motivated me, what my core beliefs and values were have seismically shifted.

Quite incidentally I went and saw Phantom with some friends last night. Now the two things may not seem to be particularly linked, however I saw in the characters of the Phantom, Christine and the Vicomte de Chagny some pictures that say some great things about the human condition and the capacity of love and grace to free us; which illustrates much of my testimony of the past two years walking with God.

The character of the phantom is a great picture of someone who is broken. Some crappy things have happened in his life, and so he hides from life and the world, because by putting up those walls he thinks he can protect himself from being hurt. He’s different, and even around people he’s felt alone because the loneliest place in the world is in amongst people who do not ‘see’ you and do not accept you. The more isolated he has become the more his needs have ached, and so he’s buried himself in the music and in a dream of a relationship with someone who he sees as lovely and innocent. He starts in the relationship with her on the assumption that she could not love him as he is, so he hides from her too. Only showing her those parts of himself that he believes that she will find attractive. The sad truth being that the relationship can never be genuine when he is not being himself, in all of his imperfection and brokenness. But because he has never been able to address his need and his pain through conventional means he has become desperate and will do anything to have what he wants, thinking that it will make the pain go away. His behaviour becomes more and more extreme, from being Christine’s “Angel of Music” to where he tries to force her to marry him by threatening the life of the man she loves.

At two places Christine tears his mask away from him. She is actually interested in who he really is, not just the “Angel of Music” persona that he has adopted. When she does this he shrinks away from her. There’s this fear that she will reject him. Yet by not allowing her the chance to decide for herself, he in effect rejects himself on her behalf. He carries around in his head this belief that he really is not good enough. He does not allowing for the possibility that someone could love him in his imperfection and brokeness.

What is so beautiful about this play occurs very close to the end. Christine’s boyfriend is suspended from a noose, and the Phantom demands that she choose, to marry the phantom and her boyfriend lives, or not to marry him, and her boyfriend dies. Nice position to be put in, and as Christine puts it, “The tears I might have shed for your dark fate, Grow cold and turn to tears of hate”. A perfectly normal human reaction, but what follows is amazing. It is a wonderful picture of someone who out of their own human compassion COULD NOT show love or grace, but instead calls on God to help them do it anyway. Christine cries out, “God give me courage to show you, You are not alone...” and then plants a great big kiss on the demasked phantom. Not on the phantom when he’s all masked and hidden, not when he’s playing his “Angel of Music” role. But when he is demasked, and when the worst of his character and behaviour has been exposed. And what is his response? In a word, repentance. He lets them both go.

In Raoul (Vicomte de Chagny) there is a certain Christlikeness. In that last scene where Christine has to choose between a life of slavery with the Phantom versus her own freedom at the expense of Raoul's life, Raoul is entirely willing to lay down his life so that she can be free, "Don't throw your life away for my sake!" he calls out. He would rather die than have her live in darkness. And then in the song, "That's all I ask of you" the things that Raoul sings to Christine are so reminiscent of much of what scripture says:
  • Walk in the light as he is in the light (1 Jn 1:7) vs Raoul - "No more talk of darkness"
  • Do not fear (1 Jn 4:18) vs Raoul - "Forget these wide-eyed fears"
  • He is with us (Mt 28:20) vs Raoul - "I'm here"
  • He will look after us and protect us from harm (Ps 121:7) vs Raoul - "nothing can harm you"
  • His word is sweet! (Ps 119:103) vs Raoul - "my words will warm and calm you."
  • He has set us free (Gal 5:1) vs Raoul - "Let me be your freedom"
  • He will protect us (Ps 12:7) and He will guide us (Ex 15:13) vs Raoul - "I'm here, with you, beside you, to guard you and to guide you..."
  • He is our shelter (Ps 31:20) vs Raoul - "Let me be your shelter"
  • We are safe (Ps 4:8) vs Raoul - "You're safe: No-one will find you, your fears are far behind you"
So who was I two years ago? The girl behind the mask, disconnected and hurt. Lots of little things during my life had lead me to a point where I felt completely alone and unwanted. Like the Phantom there were certain parts of myself that I let people see, only that which I thought they wouldn't reject. Like the Phantom I created alternate people to be, he was the 'Angel of Music', for me it was any number of the stereotypes of what a girl/woman should be.

Two years ago I came to a fork in the road, more darkness, or a new path. Some beautiful people saw behind my mask. Like Christine had every right to recoil from me, but instead relying on God they showed me love and grace. I could not explain it as being anything other than God, because there was no natural reason for them to love me. It revealed something of the heart of God towards me, and set me on that new path. So now the mask is off. I am broken, I am imperfect. But I am Bec. It's been wonderful to discover that I'm loved just for being Bec. And God's working on the brokenness :)

God bless,

No comments: