Yesterday I watched a 2011 film, the recording of the 25th anniversary performance of the Phantom of the Opera, which I had seen some years ago in the theatre. Whilst I have other musicals which impact me more (notably Les Miserables with its extraordinary gospel message), and in all honesty it is not always my favourite genre though I love both theatre and music, I found myself again moved by the Phantom’s plight in all its raw humanity: combining as we all do woundedness with anger, the deep desire to be loved despite our ugliness (whatever form that might take), and our yearning to be rescued.
In the original novel, by French writer Gaston Leroux, the Phantom has a name – Erik. Unless I missed it, he is not named in the musical – allowing him perhaps to harness our fears, nameless as well as obvious. In a telling part of the original story, when Christine kisses him, an act of compassion because she has seen past his external deformity to the damaged and broken soul inside, he confesses to her that he has never been kissed or kissed anyone, including his own mother. There has never been any love or affection shown to him.
Such damage (and the equally destructive abuse, sometimes horrifyingly and wrongly justified as “care”) is life-long, impacting every part of our relationships as people. There is though a redemptive element in the novel. Christine, hearing his story, weeps with him and their tears mingle. Something in this allows him to release all those he has captured, asking only that she visits him on his death day.
There is something about tears, and I will explore that further another time. But it seems to me that compassion is incredibly powerful. To be loved despite our ugliness (which only we really see, so adept we are at our own masks) releases the inherent goodness in us, that God spark which can be deeply hidden but is never extinguished. The shortest verse in the Bible is simply “Jesus wept”, and shortly afterwards he is wracked with sobs at the sight of Jerusalem knowing its destruction at the hands of the Romans is imminent.
God’s tears, whatever form they now take, can surely mingle with ours, whatever their cause, and work similarly powerful results. It is what he does, and it transforms not just us but all those whose lives we touch.