It's Monday. That means I spent the morning with the Sisters at Missionaries of Charity. They run a soup kitchen on the west side of Chicago that I discovered at the beginning of this year. I joined their ragamuffin cohort because I believe in serving the poor, feeding the hungry and I have come to love the Sisters of MC as my own. Today they were laughing at me because I went all the way to Kolkata, India and Rio de Janeiro, Brasil to work with MC before finding them in my own city. Let's just say my way of going about things has never been "normal."
That said, this past week has been anything but normal. The city of Chicago still seems to be burrowing its way out of the 20 inches of snow we received in a day, which I have found to be a delight. Last week the city literally stopped for 24 hours, which I have never seen before. Last Wednesday, I ventured out, bundled and be-shoveled, to survey the damage, make some angels, walk down the middle of Lake Street without a care, and maybe shovel a pile of snow or two. It was miraculous. People exchanged greetings with a smile and we all seemed to look around with a giggle. There was a refreshing sense of camaraderie, service, and dare I say, love. No one went to work. No one went to school. We all just sort of stumbled around in the bed of white, incredulous and joyful.
The week continued with more protesting and violence in Egypt. But an amazing thing happened. Beauty amid the chaos. A sliver of hope in desperation. A photo was published on the internet depicting a group of Egyptian Christians who by linking hands created a circle of safety for Egyptian Muslims to gather for prayer in the street during the protests. This gave me great hope. Like the beauty of the snow, it allowed me to see beyond the disaster, beyond the violence of the protests, and beyond my own frustration with the Christian church. For which I am incredibly grateful.
The thread of grace that seemed to make its way throughout the week culminated in my long awaited attendance at a performance of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. This is perhaps the greatest fictional story of redemption I know. Now you have to understand that I have been waiting for this day for a decade. I have been telling people for years that Les Mis is my favourite musical (but I had never seen it). My parents saw the show when I was young and brought home the soundtrack, which I listened to endlessly, memorizing all of the words and the story, like you do when you're twelve. I saw the movie. Read the book. But somehow never made it to the show. Saturday's performance was the culmination of many years of waiting and anticipation. I walked into the theatre beaming with excitement and nervousness. What if I hated it? What if it didn't live up to my expectations? And admittedly, it didn't. How could it possibly live up to the images my limitless imagination had created? It couldn't. But it was breathtaking. There was a measure of disappointment amongst my party regarding Jean Valjean's performance and a general lack of emotion in a show that typically bursts with emotion. Yet the ensemble numbers were astounding and Javert's show-stopping solo "Stars" brought tears to my eyes. As an artist, I further appreciated the show when I discovered later that the projections they used for the set were taken from Victor Hugo's own portfolio of paintings. The murky, chiaroscuro images seemed to punctuate the redemption, the grace that weaves its way in and out of Les Mis. I left the theatre chilled by the beauty of something so simple yet remarkably poignant.
Lately, the perfect conclusion to a day sprinkled with grace is Mumford and Son's latest album, Sign No More, which I have shamelessly been listening to on repeat since it landed in my iTunes. Without a doubt my favourite song is Timshel (go ahead, put it on now as you read). This may have something to do with my love for John Steinbeck and East of Eden, his greatest novel. Timshel is a Hebrew word used in Genesis 4:16, when God is speaking to Cain. It means "thou mayest." God says to Cain, "Thou mayest rule over sin." Isn't that beautiful? It gives a choice. It says the way is open. It means we have been enabled. This, this is what gives me hope. It tells me that in man's great weakness and filth, in Egypt's violence, in the life of Jean Valjean, in my snowy Chicago neighborhood, we still have a great choice. In the words of M & Sons,
"And you have your choices,
And these are what make man great,
His ladder to the stars."
(maybe these are Javert's stars they're talking about here, "the sentinels")