Stumbling along, longing for grace. Years ago I decided that those words best captured the possibilities of my life, as a husband, a father, a friend, a colleague, a citizen. I would do no better, because I could do no better.
Born of years of meditation on two stories, one we know as “The Parable of the Lost Sons” by Jesus, and the other we know as “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, I saw them as the same story with heart-forming meaning for my life.
And over time I even taught courses with these texts as central, for several months musing over the image of “stumbling along, longing for grace.” Not only did the folks in the class read the Gospels and Hugo, but I had them read Thielicke and Nouwen too, in their different ways teasing out the story of a very good father and his two sons—or of a Bishop named Bienvenu whose life was bound up with a former prisoner named Jean Valjean and a policeman named Javert.
I am not one for “the best of” or “the greatest this.” Human hearts and history are too complex. Saying that, on most days I think that Hugo’s novel is the grandest story I have ever read: history, politics, moral philosophy, economics, all that and more woven together with a remarkable understanding of the truest truths of the universe—and what is the most amazing of truth of all, the story of surprising grace.
With all that as history, yesterday we dared enter the local cineplex to see “Les Miserables” on Christmas day. And truth be told, I couldn’t wait. The director honors the story; at least the theatrical version of it that stages the world over offer again and again, night after night. And because it is a story that I have taken so deeply into my heart, I watched and listened with an eager heart, knowing everything and yet knowing it anew.
Coming home, eating Meg’s honestly homemade pumpkin pie, listening again to carols, keeping the fireplace alive next to the tree in its multi-colored glory, I read Hugo again—and was sure that on Christmas day, and every day, I am no better than Valjean and Javert, in my own way still stumbling along, longing for grace.