No matter how many times I see the play or watch the movie, the story of redemption in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables never fails to both move me to tears and challenge me on a deeply spiritual level. This weekend, I finally had a chance to see the much-anticipated, recent film adaption of Les Mis, and while I've had the pleasure of seeing the play in different countries and languages, I never seem to get over the transcendent, almost supernatural, kindness of Bishop Myriel. Each time I'm reminded of the bishop's act of mercy, I can't help but ask myself if I have the moral fiber to respond with the same sort of otherworldly love, the kind that surpasses basic human nature.
This supernatural love requires transcendence: the ability to overlook an offense, to give up my "right" to justice, and to see the world (and my place in it) from a larger point of view. To be "transcendent" means not only to acknowledge that there are things in the world that are bigger than me (for example, God and gravity) but to live for the larger things -- which means having the humility to yield to these higher ideals.
Bishop Myriel's character personifies this divine humility, the ability to see others, even the likes of a thief, as better (or, from a transcendent perspective, "bigger") than himself. The bishop saw the greater good at stake: not just one man's soul hanging in the balance, but the lives of many others touched by Jean Valjean's wake. Even without this ripple effect, however, one man's life was more than enough for the bishop to relinquish his "right" to justice, anger, hurt feelings, offense or retaliation. There was no guarantee Jean Valjean would become a changed man, but transcendent love supersedes momentary outcomes. The bishop's love was not proud, self-seeking, or easily angered -- and it certainly kept no record of wrongs.
As I watched this powerful scene unfold once again, I couldn't help but ask myself if I could be a little more transcendent... today, this week, and this year. To me, the idea of "transcendence" has always been a lofty, ethereal concept reserved for saints and spiritual gurus like Gandhi and Mother Teresa -- not a layperson like me. But is it possible to make supernatural love a little more doable by becoming more aware that life is not (just) about me? Am I willing to give up my "right" to justice, or even my "right" to be offended? When someone wrongs me, can I not only forgive, but respond with kindness rather than gossip or any other form of retaliation? Can I look the other way (literally, "turn the other cheek") at an intentional or unintentional offense?
Do I have what it takes to give my best silver candlesticks, too? That's the meaning of transcendence.
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