Behind the Album: Bienvenu
"...[T]he poor of the district had chosen by a sort of affectionate instinct, from among the bishop's names, the one that meant the most to them, and so they always called him Monseigneur Bienvenu. We shall follow their example and shall call him thus; besides, this pleased him. "I like this name," said he; "the Bienvenu counterbalances the Monseigneur."
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
The first fifty pages of Les Misérables introduce a character who is never explicitly seen or heard from again, though his actions in these first few pages continue to reverberate throughout the immense tome. It is this Bishop Myriel, lovingly called Monseigneur Bienvenu by his parishioners, who welcomes the pitiful thief Jean Valjean just when the latter believes he has met with the bitter end of human charity. It is Bishop Myriel who shows confounding generosity after being wronged by his guest that very night. Unbeknownst at first to the stone-hearted convict, however, the free gift Monseigneur Bienvenu offers to this poor soul comes at a high price: Jean Valjean must inevitably be forever changed by this bishop's act of grace―a grace which demands his very life.
If you are familiar with foreign languages (or, I suppose, if French is itself your native language), you may have noticed that bienvenue also happens to be the French word for "welcome,” and, whether through care or coincidence, this is precisely the bishop's office in the story. He stands as a porter at the threshold of this tale, welcoming protagonist and reader alike―though his welcome is not so much inward to safety and shelter as outward to the journey that awaits, to the road that will lead us to our true home. This journey, which begins with a simple act of grace, is filled with love and loneliness, forgiveness and failure, questions and tension and hope; and after all this, the road leads us right back where we began, back to the simplicity of grace and gift.
But this is not the same grace that occasioned the journey. Or, perhaps more truthfully, we are not the same. Thus we return in the end to the old, familiar comfort of that grey-haired grace we’ve always known, seeing it now with fresh eyes, with a new hope hard-fought in every footfall, every full fall, every rising again. And, of course, as we look into those patient, ancient eyes of grace, we know this journey has only just begun.
This album, too, begins with a gift of grace: You are enough; be yourself, and love.
But there is little time to savour this grace, as the inevitable response rings out: Who am I, after all? The question sets us on a journey not unlike Valjean's. But even while the questions bear down on us like dark clouds on the horizon; even as the tension builds and threatens to tear us apart; even when apathy overwhelms and quells our weary, lonesome souls; still hope flows defiantly under the surface as the ocean of grace and love draws us inexorably toward itself.
May we always find solace in the truth of a grace which welcomes us just as we are, broken and bleeding and longing for home. May we always find strength in the same to return to this communal journey with defiant hope and inexorable love.
In the coming weeks, I’ll write more on each song from the album, painting a fuller picture of this journey from grace to grace. If you want to be notified periodically about these posts, sign up for the mailing list on the contact page. In the meantime, feel free to have a listen to the Spotify playlist below, into which I've gathered a handful of my favourite songs to help contextualize and complement the journey undertaken in Bienvenu.
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