I am going to write about two separate epiphanies I’ve had in the last week, but first let me tell you that I am sitting on a quiet spot in Deer Valley, Utah looking at the aspen- and pine-covered mountains around me. I’m embellishing your mental picture, readers. You’re welcome. Please note that the sky is clear and blue, with dollops of clouds lazing by the skyline. It’s a pleasant 70-ish degrees outside, and Dvorak’s New World Symphony is piping beauty directly into my brain.
I’m here with mom and my four sisters having a girls’ trip, which was our Mother’s Day gift to Shirley. The last time we did this was seven years ago, when Sarah had her firstborn newborn along for the ride and I was recovering from pneumonia while in my first trimester with Truman. Basically, we needed a re-do. This is the trip that last time wasn’t. Also, seven years is too long to go between this sort of bonding/restorative trip.
So while we have been here living our best lives, I’ve been thinking about Hagar, from the Book of Genesis, and (oddly) the characters of Les Miserables.
I’ve been rereading the story of Abraham and Sarah, who are clearly the stars of this Old Testament show because they produce Isaac and are the lynchpins in the Abrahamic Covenant. On this reading, though, Sarah’s handmaid stands out to me instead.
Hagar, the unfortunately named Egyptian handmaid, is compelled by her mistress to lie with Abraham and have a child, Ishmael. Then when Sarah has her own child, she fears for Isaac’s inheritance and wishes Hagar and Ishmael to be banished. Abraham unhappily complies with Sarah’s request, and sends the bondwoman and her son into the wilderness to fend for themselves.
“And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.
And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.
And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.
Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.
And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.
And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.”
Before, this story seemed ancillary to the trajectory of the main players. Now, I am moved by Hagar’s distress and God’s response to it. She didn’t ask to be drawn into this family drama. It was Sarah who wanted Hagar to have a child for Abraham. Until she didn’t. Hagar was kind of a pawn, used by Sarah for her purposes, then cast off when Sarah saw her and her son as a threat.
But to God, Hagar wasn’t a pawn. She was a person. He saw her anguish. He heard her cries, comforted her, and directed her to water for the son who, God promised, would found a nation.
This vignette shows me that there are no minor characters in mortality. God is aware of each regular, unsung person, and has a plan and a purpose for all of us. I’m touched by the indiscriminate love our Heavenly Parents have for each person, no matter our status or lifestyle or background. They know us. They care about the things we care about.
The second story that pierced me of late is Les Miserable. I’ve been listening to it (again) because I’m suuuuper Mormon-y I guess, and I find both the music and the story brimming with truth and hope. My favorite characters are Fantine, Eponine, and Jean Val Jean (duh) because they project a kind of self-reflection in suffering that speaks to me. Who hasn’t at some point felt like the unloved Eponine? Who hasn’t identified with Fantine, whose life plays out tragically and in opposition to her youthful hopes? And Val Jean, for Pete’s sake, straight up personifies the type of highly moral person I respect and long to be.
The finale of Les Miz does me in every time. When Fantine’s spirit comes to accompany Val Jean’s spirit to heaven, and they are all whole and well with Eponine, then the three of them sing, “To love another person is to see the face of God,” I am overflowing with emotion. Fantine, driven to prostitution by horrible circumstances; Eponine, deprived of tenderness and love; and Val Jean, who reforms his life into one defined by charity and forgiveness are all projections of resounding, exquisite humanity–what we all inevitably experience and what we yearn for.
Seeing these three enter into their heavenly reward strikes a chord in me that vibrates with gratitude for the chance we all have to reform, improve, and continue living within the embrace of our Heavenly Parents’ mercy and love.
Is there anything more beautiful than this?