Phantom of the Opera, Relationship, Development and the Trinity

I happened to be browsing through the score of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ the other day. I have not seen the show, so I was interested to see what was in it. A friend of mine had alerted me to the power of the words ‘The Music of the Night’ like this:

 

Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams

Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before

Close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar

And you live as you’ve never lived before
Softly, deftly, music shall caress you

Hear it, feel it secretly possess you

Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind

 In this darkness that you know you cannot fight

The darkness of the music of the night

 

A quick look at these words is enough to see what mythological world we are in. It is the world of Persephone and Hades. You may know the story. Hades (god of the underworld, i.e. darkness) falls in love with Persephone. One thing leads to another and she marries him, but can return to the ‘light’ for six months of the year. This corresponds to the six months of ‘spring/summer’ while her time in the ‘dark’ corresponds to the six months of autumn/winter.

 

But you can also see the outlines of a woman’s psycho-social development here too. Girls are socialised to be ‘good’, and when they arrive at teenage years they are faced with the decisions about becoming sexually active and the question of whom they will ‘admit’ into their lives. They have, as the song suggests to ‘purge their thoughts of the life they knew before’ in order to enter into womanhood. As well, there is often an attraction for a time to the ‘dark’ side of life, because being good all the time can be boring. What is the point of being ‘good’ if it is not a choice that is made freely.

 

This kind of idea is a frequent part of our culture. The question arises in the form of vampire and daemon possession movies for girls, and in the form of ‘quest’ movies for boys. You may know the saying’ every young man must pluck three hairs from the beard of the devil.’

 

But there I another question for girls that is embedded in this musical. The pattern of patriarchy is that a girl is nothing without a man. She defines her existence as ‘someone’s wife’. This is no longer the case nowadays, but the question of ‘life together’ and under what circumstances and ‘life alone’ and under what circumstances remains for us all. The ‘Phantom of the Opera’ tells the story of a person who is kidnapped. The vampire and possession movies warn us that sometimes the ‘other’ to whom we surrender or give ourselves may end up being destructive of our ‘selves’ or sucking the life blood from us.

 

If being together is not life giving, no matter what the song promises, then there ought to be questions asked about why it is that I need to give myself to ‘the music of the night’ when I end up being kidnapped by it!

 

The end of the musical provides a solution. ‘Learn to be lonely’  These lyrics go

 

Child of the wilderness

Born into emptiness

Learn to be lonely

Learn to find your way in darkness
Who will be there for you

Comfort and care for you

Learn to be lonely

Learn to be your one companion
Never dreamed out in the world

There are arms to hold you

You’ve always known your heart was on its own
So laugh in your loneliness

 Child of the wilderness

Learn to be lonely

Learn how to love life that is lived alone
Learn to be lonely

Life can be lived,

life can be loved alone.

 

This song is the determination of someone who has been hurt by relationship to take themselves back. Bearing the pain of loneliness, being comfortable with your own company is a part of the maturing process. To learn that there is no man in the world who is going to ‘watch over you’ is an important lesson for every young woman and man.

 

I remember when I was separated from my first wife, my spiritual director said ‘learn to bear the pain.’ It was this that drove my spiritual development, into closer relationship with God.

 

But I am not sure if the end of the story is the ‘either or’ of being in a ‘dark relationship’ or ‘being alone’ This kind of decision is surely part of the developmental process, but it is not a picture that looks mature to me.

 

Christian life presents another picture of relationship: that of the Trinity whose day we celebrate today. The picture of the trinity is a picture of relationship that is in the first place differentiated. The classic image connects Father, Son and Spirit in a circle with the words ‘is not’ The Father is not the Son is not the Spirit is not the Father etc. This directs us in relationship to the need to be ‘alone’ as the song sings, to ‘know that your heart was on its own’ The beginning of healthy relationships is not symbiosis but differentiation. As the Rabbi and systems thinker Edwin Freedman says ‘My goal is to help families to become separate enough, so that they don’t have to separate.’

 

But it is also true that we are made for each other. We are constituted in such a way as that we need to ‘go out in love’ into the world, to make projects, to form connections. This is why solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments that can be meted out to another human being. In Trinitarian terms, there is communion, and a mutual vulnerability in love and truth telling between the Father, Son, and Spirit but this relationship is not constituted in such a way as to destroy the identity of the other. This complex of being in communion, yet being separate is a unique contribution of Christian Faith to an understanding of relationship.

 

There is one more thing that needs to be said. In the ‘Phantom’ story, the relationship is a ‘dyad’, there are two parties. Yet in Christian relationship there are three parties. All the time that we are focussed on ‘the other’ there is a third power at work that ‘holds us’ unconsciously while we work out our relationship. Sometimes the focus goes off ‘the relationship’ and onto ‘God the Spirit’ this ‘third party’ is a relationship. In the ‘Phantom’ story, it is this unnamed ‘third’ party that drives Christine’ both into and out of the arms of the Phantom and will continue to drive her unfolding as a person. The Trinity shows us that relationships are never just ‘we two’ but always there is a trustworthy ‘surprise third’ that operates in our unconscious selves to hold us and encourage us toward health (salvation).

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About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell isnow a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
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