Jean Valjean’s life journey in Les Misèrables reminds us of the power of the Holy Spirit to turn our lives around. We see Valjean as a man of brute strength with few redeeming qualities. His essential humanity has been debased by violence and incarceration over a period of 19 years. However, an act of unexpected mercy sets him on the path to redemption; a small act bound in the gift of grace resolves him to become a good man.
In the chapel, a perplexed Valjean asks What spirit comes to move my life? as he deliberately decides to grasp this chance to make something of himself. He rejects the dark side and looks to the light. His story resonates with all those who have to make a clear choice about how they will live; how they will be in the world; how they will treat others; what their life will mean; what path they will take; whether good will guide them. It is clear choice, a turning away from the past with the intention of actively changing for the better.
When the Spirit alights on us we have the choice to do some interior redesign; to work on the person who might emerge with a different outlook. Can we thaw out hearts that have become frozen with indifference? Can we hear the soft sibilance of the Spirit urging us on, hinting at change, suggesting that another way might be found, that there are plans afoot and much work to be done, that a new season, of being and doing, is not far away?
One of the hymn book standards of my youth was Breathe on me breath of God, fill me with life anew. Somehow the breath of God is what makes us do more, reach beyond our grasp, ticking more than the box of attendance and affiliation.
The Spirit is with us when we are compelled beyond complacency; when we get out of our own way to do something for someone else or to sign on for a cause that matters. The Spirit is that moving force, the insistent whisper, the part of us that cannot say no. It’s the Godly get-up-and-go that moves our lives.
The late Irish priest and author Daniel O’Leary said that we strive for something more because deep in our hearts the Spirit lures us to do so. Let us be lured by the Spirit, kindled, warmed and ready for that something more that will be asked of us.