Quasimodo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, from the 1939 movie, based on the 1831 classic by Victor Hugo.
By Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories, ed. by Mike graves and Richard F. Ward, Chalice Press, 2001, pages 49-50.
I was in a distant city, and the seminar in which I was involved ended on Saturday at lunch. Our host had insisted if we could possibly stay over on Sunday, it would help our budget because the airlines give a big break if you stay over Saturday night. I could and did, but the little motel where I was housed did not seem to be in a church district. I asked at the counter on Sunday morning, “Is there a church near here to which I could walk?”
After a little huddle behind the counter they said, “Well, there’s one about three or four blocks down this way,” pointing in one direction.
I said, “Do you know what kind it is?”
They said, “No, we don’t know.”
I said, “That’s okay.” So I walked and I went in. It was a small building, modestly built, one of those that looks like the men of the church helped build it, because they seemed to love it very much. The people were warm and friendly. I took my seat, a bit early, but it soon began to fill up, and before long it was totally filled. I would say there were about 120 people. At the appointed hour, the choir came down. Following the choir came the minister.
I was absolutely shocked. He was very tall. I suppose he was 6’4”. He was also very large, maybe 280 or 300 pounds. But the most noticeable feature was his stumbling, lumbering gait. He was awkward, almost falling, with his long useless arms at his sides, like they were awaiting further instruction. His head was misshapen, his hair was askew. He stumbled up the three or four steps to get to the pulpit. When he turned to face us, I saw the thick glasses, and through them I could see a milky film over his eyes. One of his eyes was looking at us, the other eye looking off to the side. When he read, he held the book near his nose. When he spoke, the sinews of his neck worked with such vigor as he pushed out the words, it was as if he had learned to speak as an adult. But I lost all consciousness of that after a while.
He read I Corinthians 13 and spoke on the subject in the bulletin, “But the greatest of these is love.” It was an unusual thing. If you had a copy of his sermon, you would say, “I’d give it a grade of ‘C’”. It was not poetic, it was not prophetic; but it was pastoral. It was so warm and so full of love and affection. It was firm, and it had exhortation in it. But the relationship between those people, the love that he extended as he preached, and the love that came back from those people who sat quietly, leaning forward, was captivating, and I was captured.
What is this? How could this grotesque creature be so full of love? I didn’t understand. I started remembering all those stories about how people who have grotesque features sometimes are granted a special quality of affection– Beauty and the Beast or Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, so ugly and yet so beautiful in his love and capacity for affection. I thought of children with Down’s Syndrome, how they have the capacity to love and grab you and hug you and kiss you, when other children stand at a distance. Is this what I’m seeing here? The providence of God that grants people who lack the attractiveness on the outside to have that quality on the inside?
I wanted to get acquainted with this extraordinary preacher, so I lingered at the door hoping to invite him to lunch. He couldn’t go, but I stood at the door and observed the greetings and hellos and little words of pastoral care, comfort, and respect between him and the members. One woman I would guess to be seventy shook his hand at the door and said to him, “I wish I could know your mother.” I saw she was having the same trouble as I was. She didn’t understand the source of this and thought maybe it was his mother. He said, “My mother’s name is Grace.”
When everybody had left and I began to visit with him. We sat on the back pew and I said, “That was an unusual response you gave to that woman, ‘My mother’s name is Grace.'”
And he said, “It is? When I was born,” he said, “I was put up for adoption at the Department of Family Services. But nobody wanted to adopt me, and you can see why. So I went from foster home to foster home, and when I was about sixteen or seventeen, I saw some young people going into a church. I wanted to be with young people, so I went in, and there I met Grace— the Grace of God.”
Quasimodo looks up to Jesus
Isaiah 53:2b-3 — He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
II Corinthians 10:10 — For some say (of Paul), “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.”
I Samuel 16:7 — The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height… The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Empty and bereft I be;
I cry to Thee;
Angry and afraid I be;
I long for Thee;
Slighted and alone I be;
I reach for Thee;
Stay by me.
Thwarted and cast down I be;
I turn to Thee;
Abandoned and forlorn I be;
I run to Thee;
Grieving and in pain I be;
You come to me;
You weep for me;
–Joyce Denham, A Child’s Book of Celtic Prayers, 1998, Loyola Press.