Rest in Peace, Karen

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(Originally posted July 1, 2014.)

Rest in peace, my friend.

A good woman has come and gone, and the world is a poorer place. Last night, Karen Goodwin died, and those who know her, grieve. Not all of us leave our fingerprints on history in the way that she did—that could not be with our different lives and labors –but her vision, energy and gifts have made all of us richer people, even better people. In her own ordinary, and yet extraordinary way, she lived a life that was a common grace for the common good.

Early in her life her artistic hopes were fixed on singing songs for the world, and with young success she found an audience wanting to listen. But that was short-lived as she damaged her voice by her mid-twenties. But even with that disappointment, Karen was still Karen with a vocation born of a love for beauty and song, and so she wrote a completely audacious letter to Cameron Mackintosh in London, already known internationally for his ability to tell stories on stage with song.

Her question? Can I learn from you? Will you allow me to apprentice myself to you? At his invitation, she moved to London and began her work under the eye of the master. His first assignment to her was an odd one, as she reported it years later. “Will you please look at this, and tell me what you think.” He gave her a brown envelope with an unread manuscript.

With her young eyes, and eager interest in all that might be, she gave her energy to “the obscure story by a French novelist” as it had been described. What came out of that simple question has charmed and changed the world.

“Les Miserables” found its way to the theaters of London, and 30 years later has been seen by 65 million people all over the world. With Macintosh’s blessing, Karen brought the story to America, and to Broadway, where it has had a remarkable run, and has been seen in cities small and large across the country.

Sometimes you meet someone whose hopes are irrepressible. Not because that person is driven by unholy ambition, but rather that she is so fully awakened to the call of God upon her life that all who watch and listen are drawn into the vision that makes her her. Karen was like that. She scored big, early, with the success of “Les Mis,” and as often is, that opened doors for her for the rest of her life. But one never thought of Karen as ego-centered, as drawing attention to what she had done in a way that was off-putting. She had done very good work, the best work in her world of work, and we all noticed, everyone of us.

But what was deeper was her hope that more was yet to be done.

And now, after a long struggle with cancer, her work here is over. I can only imagine that we will someday be invited in to see what she has imagined for the stages of the new heavens and new earth. Like Tolkien’s Niggle, hard-working artist that he was, living with the strains of the now-but-not-yet of this world, he was surprised by joy when he found that the leaf he spent his life painting was “there” in its fullness when he passed from this life to the next —and yet, and yet, there was still more to be seen and celebrated as he lived into the work that was now his. The work begun here was still his to be taken up in the next, but with neither pain nor distraction. Death, final enemy that it was in this life, was the door into the world he always hoped for, but could not imagine.

So we smile in our sorrow, believing as we must that she has passed over and through, and like Niggle before her, has been awakened by the songs and stories that are known and yet not known, ones that will call her to imagine them in ways that will delight the human heart and give glory to God—like “Les Miserables,” and yet somehow strangely and wonderfully different, as the best stories will someday be.

Rest in peace, Karen.

(From the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture.)

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About Dr. Steven Garber

Steven Garber has a classroom among many people in many places. As the Founder and Principal of the Washington Institute, the heart of his own calling is that people understand the integral character of faith, vocation, and culture. Author of The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (2007), and Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (2014), he writes frequently for Comment and Critique, and in addition was a contributor to the volumes Faith Goes to Work: Reflections From the Marketplace, and Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalogue, as well as to the Mars Hill Audio journal, “Tacit Knowing, Truthful Knowing: The Life and Work of Michael Polanyi.” For many years he taught on Capitol Hill in the American Studies Program, and then became the Scholar-in-Residence for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He serves as a board member for Ransom Fellowship, the Blood:Water Mission, A Rocha, and the Telos Project, and as a consultant for the Wedgwood Circle, the Murdock Trust, the Demdaco Corporation and the Mars Corporation. A native of the great valleys of Colorado and California, he is married to Meg and is the father of five children whose own callings have them scattered around the world.


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