Some say it is the most iconic scene in the world’s most loved movie. Others say it is a blot on an otherwise gem of a film. But the sequence in which Andy Dufresne commandeers the PA system in Shawshank Prison in Frank Darabont’s gripping 1994 prison drama is a source of vehement controversy between fans of the movie. As the strains of Duettino Sull’aria from Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro sounds around every square foot of the prison, hardened criminals are transfixed. Red, voiced by the inimitable Morgan Freeman, comments:
“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid.”
I must admit to being a romantic at heart and find the scene incredibly powerful. Great art and indeed great music, really can change lives.
Perhaps this is why I also love the story of George Frideric Handel, the composer most famous for his oratorio Messiah. Handel organised annual benefit concerts and recitals of Messiah at the Foundling Hospital, which was built in 1739 to care for abandoned children and babies. Although the hospital is closed today, it is run as a museum by an adoption agency, to portray the pioneering story of our country’s heritage of adoption and fostering.
Messiah is scripture set to music – a retelling of the story of Christ’s prophetic prediction, birth, life, death, resurrection and return. According to the Guardian, it is Britain’s most loved choral piece. Yet Handel knew that it was imperative to link the life of Christ with the needs of the vulnerable. He was not ashamed to allow his moving rendition of the life of Christ help raise funds for those most in need in society. The centrepiece of his Messiah are the following words, reminding us of the compassionate care that Christ showed for those who are outcast, those in poverty and those suffering ill health:
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; and he shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Come unto Him, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and He shall give you rest. Take his yoke upon you, and learn of Him; for he is meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Isaiah 35:5-6; 40:11; Matthew 11:28-29)”
Just as Handel used his art to change lives through the magnificent, theologically rich retelling of the life of Christ, I believe it’s time for art and music today to help us come face to face with God’s heart for the vulnerable. Films and novels are replete with hints of unwanted children, and this reflects the many thousands of children and young people in the UK that need a permanent, loving home either through adoption or long-term fostering. Yet in our churches it is unusual for us to even mention our adoption into God’s family, let alone our mandate to care for the vulnerable.
Some churches around the UK are beginning to grasp the challenge to take responsibility for the children in care in our communities. And we do have one or two songs that hint or mention adoption:
“Who makes the orphan a son or daughter?” (Amazing Love – Chris Tomlin)
“Now I am your son, I am adopted in your family” ( Father God I Wonder – Ishmael)
But it’s time for more.
Friends, can you help make the difference? Can you deliberately thank God for your own adoption in your public prayers? Can you preach or teach about the theology of our adoption into God’s family or about God’s compassionate concern for those in need? Can you write, paint or film pieces of art that will change the culture?
In The Shawshank Redemption, those two Italian ladies Red mentioned were singing about a covert scheme to outsmart the domineering men in their lives. Perhaps it was a little hint that in Shawshank Prison the powerful warden Norton and his cronies would soon be outwitted by the ‘resurrection’ of powerless prisoner Andy Dufresne.
In Handel’s Messiah, an apparently powerless victim of the mighty Roman Empire would outsmart and undo the whole system through his death and eventual resurrection. As a foster father and adopted dad, I have found that the children that many have written off as unwanted and unadoptable are more resilient, smart, brave and courageous than we give them credit for. Now there’s a show-stopping cinematic story worth telling.
To help bring adoption to the frontline of our churches’ ministry and theology, please sign your church up to ‘Adoption Sunday’ via the Home For Good website. The government are watching these sign-up figures closely to see how many churches really care about this vital work for the most vulnerable in our society. Thank you.