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Seeing is believing: a reflection on Les Miserables and the Marian Centre

Cheridan Sanders

Saturday, January 5, 2013

On a recent trip to Edmonton, Alberta I spent some time at the Marian Centre. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the centre’s work, click here.
During my time there, I learnt that there’s a term they use to describe the people they serve. They call them 'Christophers' in other words Christ-bearers. I came to realize that their mission is less about handing out food as it is about inviting everyone to participate in a new way of seeing.
Here's what I mean. I recently watched the newly released film Les Miserables. There’s a scene where a priest finds the protagonist Jean Valjean sleeping outside in the cold.
The priest invites him into his rectory and treats him as an honoured guest. He then invites Jean Valjean to stay the night and while the priest sleeps, Jean Valjean makes off with all the silver he can carry. The police catch Jean Valjean and he is brought before the priest. Here’s where it gets interesting. The priest has a choice. He can acknowledge the person in front of him as just an unrepentant thief who needs to be brought to justice or he can embrace him. The priest sees past Jean’s desperate actions to what Jean is really seeking, help and hope.
The clarity to truly ‘see’ the person before him and not just a ‘convict’, requires eyes well acquainted with a biblical view of things. The priest does something extraordinary; he calls Jean Valjean my friend and he gives him the candlesticks along with the stolen silverware as a gift. He blesses Jean Valjean and commends his soul to God. This encounter is a turning point for Jean Valjean. And I believe that key lies in the priest's gaze - a gaze which exuded generosity, mercy and forgiveness. This gaze helped Jean Valjean see himself in a new way.
The power of a gaze full of love makes me think of when Jesus meets Simon and Andrew for the first time. Jesus tells them to follow him and 'immediately they left their nets and followed him'. No matter what century you may be living in, just dropping everything and following a stranger is crazy!
So what was it about Jesus that made Simon Peter and Andrew drop everything? I imagine that it was something in Christ's gaze – the way that he looked at Simon Peter. In Christ’s gaze he communicated a reality that was beyond words. Christ had authority, and Simon Peter knew deep down that he was known and loved. Christ’s gaze elicited a response, a response which would put this fisherman on a radically new course.
My time at the Marian Centre reminded me that the eyes we choose to see the world with greatly affects the impact we have on the world.
Photo credit: David LeRoss

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