I just had to go back and visit the bishop in Les Miserables. Kind of the same reason I need to read another Brennan Manning book every once in a while.
I need to remember.
To remember who I am. To know the eyesight I must cultivate. The heart habits I must nuture. I am always too easily otherwise. Far too easily. Bishop, you are Welcome. Make your abode here.
We are not obliged to sound the Bishop of Digne on the score of orthodoxy. In the presence of such a soul we feel ourselves in no mood but respect. The conscience of the man should be accepted on his word. Moreover, certain natures being given, we admit the possible development of all beauties of human virtue in a belief that differs from our own.
What did he think of this dogma, or of that mystery? These secrets of the inner tribunal of the conscience are known only to the tomb, where souls enter naked. The point on which we are certain is, that the difficulties of faith never resolved themselves into hypocrisy in his case. No decay is possible in the diamond. He believed to the extent of his powers. Moreover, he drew from good works that amount of satisfaction which suffices to the conscience, and which whispers to a man, “Thou art with God!”
The point which we consider it our duty to note is, that outside of and beyond his faith, as it were, the Bishop possessed an excess of love. What was this excess of love? It was a serene benevolence which overflowed men, as we have already pointed out, and which, on occasion, extended even to things. He lived without disdain. He was indulgent towards God’s creation. Every man, even the best, has within him a thoughtless harshness which he reserves for animals. The Bishop of Digne had none of that harshness, which is peculiar to many priests, nevertheless. He did not go as far as the Brahmin, but he seemed to have weighed this saying of Ecclesiastes: “Whoso knoweth wither the soul of the animal goeth?” Hideousness of aspect, deformity of instinct, troubled him not, and did not arouse his indignation. He was touched, almost softened by them. It seemed as though he went thoughtfully away to seek beyond the bounds of life which is apparent, the cause, the explanation, or the excuse for them. He seemed at times to be asking God to commute these penalties. He examined without wrath, and with the eye of a linguist who is deciphering a palimpsest, that portion of chaos which still exists in nature. This revery sometimes caused him to utter odd sayings. One morning he was in his garden, and thought himself alone, but his sister was walking behind him, unseen by him: suddenly he paused and gazed at something on the ground; it was a large, black, hairy, frightful spider. His sister heard him say:
“Poor beast! It is not its fault!”
His universal suavity was less an instinct of nature than the result of a grand conviction which had filtered into his heart through the medium of life, and had trickled there slowly, thought by thought; for, in a character, as in a rock, there may exist apertures made by drops of water. These hollows are uneffaceable; these formations are indestructible.
“With the eye of a linguist who is deciphering a palimpsest” Love this line! A palimpsest is a manuscript that has been rubbed and scraped clean so as to be reused. Linguists will strive to decipher the older text underlying the more recent. Thus to see with the eye of a linguist deciphering a palimpsest is not merely to read between the lines, but to search for the nearly invisible text lying beneath the obvious.
Yes. May I see with such eyes!
May I suffer from such an excess of love that sees beyond the hairy beast before me to the deep-sixed subtext.
May the difficulties of faith never be resolved into hypocrisy in me.
Drip by drip, Life, drop your waters on me. Create uneffaceable hollows of grace in me, indestrucible formations of mercies fresh and waiting.
Bishop, you are Welcome.
Make your abode here.