Monsieur Labisse

12 Feb

I have a confession.

I have watched Hugo five times.

It’s simply magical to me. The story touches something deep inside I can’t explain. Dreams lost? Dreams rediscovered? Or is it purpose finally recognized and embraced?

I’m struck each time by the observation in the film that machines don’t come with extra parts, that every part has a purpose. And that if the entire world is like one big machine, that every one of us has a purpose. I love the way that theme plays out in the story on multiple levels.

Simultaneous with these viewings of Hugo, I have been finding a deep and settled purpose within myself. Why does it take so long, why this struggle so hard to finally figure out something of who we are? Perhaps the reason many of us can never stop our ceaseless campaigns of building or bettering or battering or bartering is the simple reason we are still desperately in search of our own identity – no matter how nobly we try to label it zeal or passion or godly ambition.

Seven years out of the pulpit detached me a pulpit-shaped identity. But being detached from one false identity doesn’t guarantee that you’ll automatically find your true one. In fact, that detachment only led to seven more years of other proffered attachments to sundry identities, dangling before me like so many carrots offering vision, purpose and life.

Thankfully, if you can wait long enough, carrots will shrivel and rot.

Now I begin to see it, at last. I’ve crested fifty, and I finally begin to see it.

I saw it afresh in Hugo in the face of Monsieur Labisse.

Monsieur Labisse is the old bookshop owner in the train station of Gare Montparnasse in Paris. And yes, he looks and sounds remarkably like an old Christopher Lee. He knows just where to find the right book – “back of the shop, to the left, third shelf.” He also drops books at the feet of orphans and gives them away. He’s constantly loaning books, and even knows the exact location of a volume in the Film Academy Library, a volume that literally opens the imagination and that becomes the catalyst for changing multiplied lives.

Monsieur Labisse is Hugo’s example of someone who has a purpose. I think he’s my newest moniker (add to Tevye and Moonlight Graham).

Watching him and his interaction with the two orphans of the story crystallized my own purpose and literally brought me out of an office behind secured doors and back into the exposed church bookstore as my primary hermitage and haunt. I see my purpose crystallized (not frozen) into three simple “r’s”:




Yes, that’s technically two “r’s” and a “w,” but can we move on?

“Relate” is all about people. Sometimes we call it “pastoring.” For me it’s just being human. My primary purpose is being available for the random and unsolicited conversations with whomever happens to walk through the bookstore gates. Work and administrative tasks within the church and store are what happens around those conversations. Tasks are the interruptions, not the people. Jobs are scheduled, not human beings. A pastor I met years ago told me that conversations – and our being available to listen – are our culture’s “cup of cold water.” Occasionally someone awaits me in the bookstore more interested in throwing water (or worse) in my face, but mostly these are shared, cool refreshing waters to be enjoyed leisurely, thankfully, prayerfully. May I never repent of being available for them again. It is, for me, the high ground of divine purpose and intention.

“Read” and “write” are fairly obvious as to content. I dearly love both. I used to rate reading high above relating (just ask my wife – and she may object to the word “used,” but I’m working on it). Now I read when I can and write as I am able. I look back at this blog and realize it’s been over ten days since I’ve written a thing here. But then I see that over these past ten days my life has been filled with relating – some of it very rich relating indeed, both in the store and at various homes and locations – and on the phone. Tonight I listened to a friend for nearly forty minutes – Bible questions, life observations and frustrations, and a few laughs thrown in.

How wealthy we are when we know our purpose and are free to swim in it, to sing it out lavishly.

And capping off these personal observations came these words from Thomas Merton dating back to 1965, as I snatched a page or two from his own journaling, followed by fitting words from a David psalm. Scarcely have words been to me such golden apples in my own silver basket of life. May you likewise be free to find and frolic in your own divinely revealed purpose:

I can imagine no other joy on earth than to have a hermitage and to be at peace in it, to live in silence,  -to think and write, to listen to the wind and to all the voices of the wood, to live in the shadow of the big cedar cross, to prepare for my death and my exodus to the heavenly country, to love my brothers and all people, and to pray for the whole world and for peace and good sense among men. So it is “my place” in the scheme of things, and that is sufficient.

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.  Psalm 131

1 Comment

Posted by on February 12, 2012 in musings


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One response to “Monsieur Labisse

  1. Joshua Hopping

    February 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    *smile* I’m glad you are finding you place and purpose for this time. ah, the dangerous adventure of the following the Wild Goose. =D


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