I went last night with my family to see the musical, Les Misérables. Though there were a few unpleasant American ‘licenses’ taken that were not present in the version I saw in London in 1990, it was an exquisite example of how drama can swell your soul and open your mind wonderfully to the grittiest, most fundamental truths that stitch together heaven and earth.
The philosopher Aristotle argued that drama is cathartic (from the Greek word katharsis, which means cleansing or purifying), inasmuch as it allows the audience to enter into the complex world of the characters who struggle to become fully human in trying circumstances. Drama, Aristotle believed, offered an opportunity for cleansing and forming of the imagination and of the passions in ways that were conducive to living the good life of excellence in virtue.
An aside: if Aristotle is correct in his assessment of the power and purpose of drama, imagine what our presrnt cultural experience of tv and movie drama does to our interior lives!
I found this ‘cathartic’ dimension of drama true last evening, especially as I entered imaginatively into the character of Jean Valjean. His character lives out in extraordinary fashion the whole drama of redemption heroically, as his experience of hardship under grace forms a man capable of permitting the chiseling blows of suffering and misfortune to carve out in him a father. His selfless love, his courage, his humility and his humanity give flesh and blood to what fatherhood is meant to be. His character just gets into your soul and inhabits and haunts you in a way that mere principles, exhortations, commands or bald ideas (e.g. do good, avoid evil) simply cannot.
I left cleansed and enlightened last night, and have found myself throughout the day today overcome with powerful emotions again and again as Valjean, so thoroughly Christ-like, lives in my memory like a sacrament radiating grace into every crevice and corner of my soul.
Great literature and great theater have the power to open the mind to truths that cannot be articulated in clear and concise definitions. It draws you into worlds you never before imagined could be so large and expansive and fascinating. And it creates in me a deeper appreciation, as I read the only inspired literature on the planet, Sacred Scripture, as to why God chose to reveal himself not in the form of propositions or proverbs, but in dramatic narrative form — in the scriptural narratives of creation and salvation, and in the Sacramental drama of Liturgy where the narrative itself reforms and transforms matter, causing it to fall beneath the weight of incarnate divine Glory.
So you get the sense I would encourage you to see the musical, read the book or watch the upcoming movie, which hopefully will do justice to the original story.
And after you are done, read the Good Book so as to be inhabited by its main Character.