In this chapter are described the frugal and efficient dwelling and furnishings of the bishop’s home. Of course there is the one valuable possession in the household worth stealing: silver and candlesticks. Personal emphasis on the value of these items is laid with the bishop’s remark about how difficult it would be to give them up. Still, as with almost everything else, the value he ascribes to them, is in their function – beautiful as they may be – as silverware. Yet Madame Magloire enjoyed them for their beauty as they shone against the tablecloth.
These viewpoints are reversed however in the discussion about the use of their four plots of land. The bishop with his flowers (requiring much work) states that “The beautiful is as useful as the useful… Maybe moreso.”
Here we have one of the main questions of life: the practical versus the aesthetic. Although the bishop seems bent on practicality with his money, even misappropriating funds with convenient “end justifies the means” logic. Now in the flowers, he values form over function. It is this aspect of the ideal bishop’s life that calls to me. The spontaneous lapses of praise and longings for God while reading, thoughts of eternity emanating from the contemplation of beauty.
For the beauty is useful to that end: it lifts the eyes of the spirit unto heights eternal. But beauty must be “used” to that end only, for as an end in itself as if one could own it, beauty decays and quickly fades, leaving only the demanding possessiveness of the human soul behind.
Everything in my life is that way. We can’t own, or demand any pleasure or beautiful thing or a person, lest it spoil. People are there to be loved, but not owned even in part. In my life I have made big investments in a few people, which is a good thing. But I have placed expectations on them which has encumbered both them and especially myself. And, down that road, I have found myself feigning the investment for the sake of demanding the expectation.
God redeems however, in spite of me, and refreshes me from the heaviness with bright visions of selfless love, and I find myself casting away expectation and anxiety.