The character of Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton is wonderfully complex. He has his virtues, even as he lives a wild life. Despite his womanizing, drinking, and hot-headedness, we have to admire his drive, determination, and radical openness.
It’s his radical openness that allows us a glimpse into an interior change developing quietly and steadily through the progression of the musical: Hamilton’s inner journey to surrender in prayer.
“Our heart is restless until it rests in you.” – St Augustine, Confessions
In the first half of the show, Hamilton sings two lines very telling of his interior life, expressing sentiments most of us have experienced:
“I’m young, scrappy and hungry”*
“I’m never satisfied / I’ve never been satisfied”*
Renée Elise Goldsberry and Lin-Manuel Miranda perform song “Satisfied” in Hamilton. © 2020 Walt Disney Studios.
Hamilton is a restless soul. He has known a tremendous amount of tragedy for his tender years. From the wreckage of his life, he escaped by using his gift with words: “I wrote my way out of hell…when my prayers to God were met with indifference / I picked up a pen / I wrote my own deliverance.”*
At a young age, when he needed God the most, Hamilton couldn’t seem to find him. Many of us know the pain and desperation that can come when we pray in complete vulnerability, but don’t get the answer we were counting on. Alexander feels abandoned by God and, as a result, strikes out on his own, restless, chasing continuously after the next thing, hungry for fulfilment, but never satisfied.
“In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.” – Psalm 18:6
Alexander Hamilton is a talented man and he gets by on his own, fighting his way through life on his own. But Hamilton, like everyone, has weaknesses. And one of them, as presented in the musical, is his unhealthy habits with women.
We can recognize how these habits came about in Hamilton’s life – his early single life included many escapades with women, as referenced in the songs Aaron Burr, Sir and A Winter’s Ball. Hamilton hadn’t worked on developing the virtue of honouring the depth of a woman’s dignity in his early life. When he meets Eliza Schuyler, a lovely and strong young woman who really is good for him and makes him happy, we all hope he will settle down with her and be content. And for a while, he does. But this weakness in his ability to recognize and honour the inherent dignity of women catches up to him when he meets Mrs. Reynolds, a woman who invites him to bed with her while Eliza is on holiday with their children.
Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler’s wedding, Hamilton. © 2020 Walt Disney Studios.
Suddenly, Alexander Hamilton’s faithfulness to his wife is put to the test. In a moment of struggle, two warring factions rise within him: the part of him that wants to honour his wife, his children, himself, his God… and the part that wants the comfort of his old ways and immediate relief from the stress he is under.
In this moment, Hamilton realizes a truth: he is not strong enough. The “top-notch brain”* that he has always relied on cannot save him now. He is too weak to do the right thing. And in the recognition of this terrible weakness, he does something he hasn’t done in a long time- he cries out to God: “That’s when I began to pray / Lord, show me how to say no to this / I don’t know how to say no to this.”*
Unfortunately, Hamilton doesn’t quite stay open long enough to cooperate with the grace being extended to him in that moment and he gives in, betraying everyone he loves in the process, including himself. In his subsequent desperation to cover his tracks, he succumbs to a cycle of infidelity and cover-ups, until he is forced to publicly come clean – and risks losing everything.
We can all identify with this step in Hamilton’s journey – a sudden recognition of weakness, a desperate plea, and an inability to cooperate fully with the grace being offered in that moment. We’ve all had a time in our lives where we prayed, and then acted in a way that betrayed our own prayer. As much as we hate to admit it as we face-palm over Hamilton’s horrible decision, we know we’ve fallen too. And consequently, we know the shame that must follow.
“He reached down from on high… he drew me out of mighty waters…He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.” – Psalm 18: 16, 19
Hamilton now has much to reckon with. He must live with his wife’s heartbreak, his own guilt over his affair, and his professional disgrace. Then, on top of it all, the Hamilton couple is struck by the death of their eldest son, Phillip, who loses his life in part because of that hot-headedness he inherited from his father. Truly, Hamilton has just lost everything. He still has money, but he is utterly poor. Shattered, the family moves ‘uptown.’
Alexander and Eliza Hamilton in mourning, Hamilton. © 2020 Walt Disney Studios.
Hamilton is at his lowest moment as a man, a husband, and a father. He cannot help his family or himself. He cannot comfort his wife. He cannot bring his son back from the dead. But it is here, in the empty silence of the helplessness and brokenness within him, that Hamilton surrenders to the grace of God.
“It’s quiet uptown / I never liked the quiet before / I take the children to church on Sunday / A sign of the cross at the door / And I pray / That never used to happen before.”*
God did not rob Hamilton of Phillip in order to get him to surrender. Our God doesn’t work that way – he can’t. He is Love, and he is Life, and he cannot betray himself (2 Tim 2:13). He had been present in Hamilton’s life the entire time, waiting for his beloved son Hamilton to open his heart so he could enter in and heal him. When Hamilton realizes he has no control over his own life and that he cannot heal his family or himself, he also recognizes that his aching and hungry heart was made to be whole, made to be satisfied. And finally, he begins to seek the only One who can heal and fulfil him.
Alongside the quiet surrender of prayer, Hamilton seems to take on a newfound humility and the strength that comes with it. With new eyes, he is finally able to recognize the value of the gifts God has given him, especially the gift of his amazing wife. As he seeks her forgiveness for all he has done, Alexander expresses something new:
“I know there’s no replacing what we’ve lost / And you need time / But I’m not afraid / I know who I married / Just let me stay here by your side / That would be enough.”*
For the first time, Alexander Hamilton discovers that he can be satisfied, that something could be enough for him. In the course of one song, he surrenders to God in prayer, then finds his heart is able to truly receive what it has been hungering for the entire time. His heart, though pained, can finally find rest in Love.
Phillipa Soo as Eliza Schuyler and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton. © 2020 Walt Disney Studios.
And as Eliza takes his hand in a gesture of forgiveness, we can see the strength of God’s grace working powerfully in her, too.
“Therefore… pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16
Hamilton’s journey of surrender to grace is a long one. His transformation isn’t perfect, but it is real. And it’s supported by the love and prayers of his wife, Eliza. We see her longing for his healing and fulfilment throughout the musical, pleading: “Let this moment be the first chapter / Where you decide to stay / And I could be enough / And we could be enough / That would be enough.”* She aches for him to find his belonging, to be whole. And in the end her prayer is answered, despite the tragedy that surrounds them.
Eliza’s strength and trust in God’s presence lasts long after her husband’s passing. In the closing number, Eliza sings: “The Lord, in his kindness / He gives me what you always wanted / he gives me more time.”* She tells us how she used it: “I raise funds in D.C. for the Washington Monument / I speak out against slavery…I establish the first private orphanage in New York City.” She strives to share the grace God is giving her with others. That grace, so clearly at work in her, calls to mind the powerful intercessors she had in her own life. While not referenced in the musical, the real-life Eliza Hamilton had a man of deep faith supporting her – her hairdresser.
Venerable Pierre Toussaint, Archdiocese of New Orleans arch-no.org
The Schuyler family hairdresser was none other than Venerable Pierre Toussaint. Pierre Toussaint had known Eliza Schuyler since childhood, and had a close bond with the Schuyler and Hamilton families.** He would have kept Eliza and Alexander close in prayer, especially during their times of difficulty. Although the musical cannot show us the full spiritual journey that either Alexander or Eliza traversed in their real lives, we can hope that the Hamilton couple did truly find their belonging in the One who loved them from the very beginning.
“There’s a grace too powerful to name” – Hamilton, It’s Quiet Uptown
Regardless of our own personal histories, Hamilton’s journey to surrender in prayer can speak to us. Hamilton struggles through stages we must all pass through in our spiritual lives, and has some beautiful insights to offer us for our own imperfect journeys. His humble openness to grace at the lowest point in his life and the influence of the prayers of those around him remind us that, no matter where we are in life, we have not been abandoned. We are not alone. And no matter how much we’ve fought or ignored it before, it is never too late to open ourselves up to the transformative grace of God’s love.
Hamilton is available for streaming on Disney+; the official Hamilton soundtrack is available on iTunes.
*all lyric quotes taken from the official soundtrack of Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Songs in order of quotations: My Shot; Satisfied; Hurricane; Helpless; Say No To This; It’s Quiet Uptown; That Would Be Enough; Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story
**Pierre Toussaint of New York, Slave and Freedman: A Study of Lay Spirituality in Times of Social Change, by Bishop Norbert Dorsey, CP, 2014. https://vhoagland.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/pierre-toussaint.pdf