Please watch this video before you read.
Like yours, I’m sure, my heart hurt when I listened to Jonathan Antoine tell his story of being despised and rejected. He told how during his childhood and into his teen years he was mocked for being overweight. Anyone who’s ever had their feelings hurt by bullies instantly revisited their own old pain as Jonathan spoke. His words sprang from a social outcast’s face, so swathed by extra fat that his chinbone barely protrudes and his puffy cheeks obscure his eyes.
His appearance, combined with his vulnerable words made him seem like the epitome of the slur, “Loser”. He served as a stand-in for us all at our lowest moments of self-hatred, those desperate times when we curse our failures and weaknesses. He embodied our Lenten lamentation over the evil within and all around. Tears sprung to my eyes. The haunting question echoed: How can God allow such suffering?
And then along came Grace. Somehow, mysteriously, his pretty younger classmate named Charlotte saw past Jonathan’s exterior and found “treasure hidden in a field”. (see my blogpost below). On the advice of their singing teacher, Charlotte partnered with Jonathan to perform on grouchy Simon Cowell’s show, “Britain’s Got Talent”. What young girl-saint is this?!
There they stood, in front of a cynical, show-me world, she in neat red, beaming in youthful beauty, and Jonathan, with unstyled shoulder-length curls, in baggy rock T-shirt and sagging pants. They made a picture so incongruous that Cowell muttered into his colleague’s ear, “Just when you think it can’t get any worse...”
Their music was cued and Jonathan started just a phrase too early. He immediately looked to his Rock, Charlotte, for reassurance. She confidently began to sing on the correct beat, bringing him along. Their two strong voices performed a sung-to-death (I thought) song, written, strangely, by Corey Hart, and performed famously by Las Vegas diva, Celine Dionne. Its title is simply “The Prayer”.
To my mind now, it is no coincidence that a prayer was their chosen performance piece.
Cowell’s face, as he grudgingly pretended to wish them good luck, betrayed that he was thinking something like, “You haven’t got a prayer for winning this contest”.
Again, Grace. As Jonathan’s beautiful voice swelled the praise began. The audience broke into applause. The camera zoomed in on Simon’s look of amazement. All of the judges started to smile with delight at the sound of glorious music. My hair stood on end as I watched the miracle. Within seconds the whole concert hall rose to a standing ovation and we saw Cowell, confused as Saul on the road to Damascus, slowly stand, slowly applaud.
When the tumult subsided, Judge Cowell began to pronounce his verdict. In essence he said that Jonathan was wonderful and Charlotte stank.Tears welled in sweet Charlotte’s eyes as she heard Cowell’s damning comparison, “Charlotte I think you’re good, but Jonathan, you’re a future star. You’ve got an incredible voice. I like the fact that you’re here as a duo but I worry, Charlotte whether you’re going to hold him back.”
Poor Charlotte, a hero to her friend but only human after all.
Crazy-looking Jonathan took a moment to think. Earlier, during their introduction on stage, he had been so nervous that he could barely answer when bully Cowell taunted him,
“Jonathan you haven’t said much. Are you shy?”
Jonathan had replied with mature self-awareness, “Sometimes”. He wouldn’t be silenced now, when his saviour Charlotte was being attacked. He looked at Cowell and said calmly, “Well, we’ve come on here as a duo and we’re going to stay here as a duo”. Grace.
God’s tender love appeared next in another manifestation, the judge who sensed Charlotte’s pain at Cowell’s dismissive words, and said to her, “I think your voice complements Jonathan’s really well, so don’t be disheartened.”
Oh my goodness, has the kingdom come?
After the three other panellists awarded Charlotte and Jonathan their votes for continuing in the talent competition, all eyes turned to the big boss, millionaire Simon Cowell who prides himself on his reputation for straight talking.
He tapped his head and said this, “You know Jonathan, my head here would say to you, Jonathan, ‘dump her’”. The audience gasped and booed with disapproval. Cowell continued, “and then my heart would say there was something kind of magical at moments together as well, so I’m going to say ‘Yes’ to the two of you.”
Oh, dear Simon, you felt the presence of God’s Spirit and named it “magic”. Unknowingly you partnered with the Holy Rascal to bring millions of us this glimpse of the sacred. May your limey heart continue to open to the great good news of Easter Sunday when we will all rejoice again in God’s amazing love.
Dear Readers, to further enrich your experience of this epiphany, you may want to listen to U2’s most excellent song, called, what else, “Grace”.