Bits of Wisdom from Jean Vanier

Bits of Wisdom from Jean Vanier

The spirituality of L’Arche implies that we act like rabbits and not like giraffes. Giraffes see from afar where they should go. Rabbits sniff their way. We are sniffing our way along, and we will go in the right direction if we keep eating with the poor, living with them, listening to them. (p. 104)

Fundamentally, when people start lamenting because there are people with handicaps in our world, the question is whether it is more sad that there are people with handicaps or that there are people who reject them. Which is the greater handicap? (p. 54)

The mystery is that Jesus is hidden in the poorest and in the weakest but also in the poverty of our own being. (p. 124)

Our modern world has fantastic power and knowledge. Man has conquered the moon, delved into the secret of matter, and discovered immense energies. Yes, we have amazing knowledge. But the only real knowledge necessary for the survival of the human race is lacking: the knowledge of how to transform violence and hatred into tenderness and forgiveness; how to stop the chain of aggression against the weak; how to see differences as a value rather than as a threat; how to stop people from envying those who have more and incite them to share with those who have less. (p. 63)

Aren’t we all Lazarus?
Are there not parts in each one of us that are dead,
caught up in a culture of death?
All that is dead in us,
more or less hidden in our unconscious self,
in the shadow areas or the “tomb” of our being,
provokes a kind of death around us.
We judge and condemn and push people down,
wanting to show that we are better than they.
We refuse to listen to those who are different,
and so we hurt them.
All these destructive acts have their origin
in all that is dead within us,
all that creates a stench in the hidden parts of our being,
which we do not want to look at or admit.

Jesus wants us to rise up and to become fully alive.
He calls us out of the tomb we carry within us,
just as God called Ezekiel to raise up from the dead
all those people of Israel
who were lying in the tomb of despair.

Thus says the Lord God,
“I am going to open your tombs
and raise you up from your tombs, O my people….
I will put my spirit in you and you shall live.” (Ezek. 37: 12,14)

This is what Jesus wants for each one of us today. (p. 91f)

I can really understand people who are atheists. I can really understand people who proclaim that they do not believe in God because what they are saying is that they do not believe in false gods. They do not believe in a romantic God that just blesses human beings by making them rich. They do not believe in a God who is going to punish them. Some atheists, who refuse to believe in these false gods, have a deep sense of the human heart and a deep sense of the human reality. (p. 135f)

Let us simply stop and start listening to our own hearts. There we will touch a lot of pain. We will possibly touch a lot of anger. We will possibly touch a lot of loneliness and anguish. Then we will hear something deeper. We will hear the voice of Jesus; we will hear the voice of God. We will discover that the heart of Christ, in some mysterious way, is hidden in my heart and there, we will hear, “I love you. You are precious to my eyes and I love you.” (p. 40)

As we learn to wait, we begin to discover the whole mystery of creation. On the one side God is so great, so beautiful and we are so small and so poor. We discover that God is at the beginning and at the end of all things. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the seed and he is the cedar tree. He is the beauty of all our world, and as I disappear into the earth, the sun will continue to rise and to set. I am part of something much bigger, much wider, much more beautiful than I can ever imagine. Our God is making this world move in love. God, independent of our world but totally united in some mysterious way to our hearts and to the hearts of this world, is present and is the eternal “now”…

As I discover the vastness of the project of history and the littleness of my being, I discover that it is all right simply to wait. It is all right just to be as I am, for there is something much larger than my vision and my program, no matter how large it may appear in this world. God is there at the source and the end of all things. And as I wait, somewhere I am saying, “I trust you.” (p. 146)

• • •

Today’s quotes are from Jean Vanier: Essential Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters)
Modern Spiritual Masters Series
Orbis Books (October 30, 2008)

12 thoughts on “Bits of Wisdom from Jean Vanier

  1. “Chosen (or been chosen).” Been chosen is so often the case. Life makes the choice and it slowly dawns upon the soul that that is in fact what is going on.


  2. “the question is whether it is more sad that there are people with handicaps or that there are people who reject them. Which is the greater handicap? ”

    at some point, the handicapped person becomes ‘the healer’ , ‘the minister’, to the one caring for him . . .

    in a mystery so deep we can only see glimpses of it,
    the care-giver is ‘transformed’ in the process of caring for a helpless being selflessly

    so the weak among us, the rejected, the feeble-minded . . . . there IS a place for them in a theology that teaches that in the Kingdom of God, all are needed, all have value, there is no one who doesn’t matter

    “it is in giving that we receive’


  3. Actually, Jean Vanier WAS born into an elite world of sorts as the scion of a very prominent French-Canadian Catholic family.

    Here is a bit from wiki on Vanier’s father:

    “Major-General Georges-Philéas Vanier PC DSO MC CD was a Canadian soldier and diplomat who served as Governor General of Canada, the 19th since Canadian Confederation. Vanier was born and educated in Quebec. In 1906, he was valedictorian when he graduated with a BA from Loyola College. . . . ”

    Vanier’s father went on to have a distinguished diplomatic career. Vanier’s mother, Pauline, was also from a distinguished family and also lived a prominent life of public service to others.

    Sometimes a person who comes from privilege is drawn to it aside in order to ‘walk with’ those less fortunate in this world and serve the ones among them who are most vulnerable.
    Francis of Assisi is one notable example, but in the history of the Church, there are many more men and women who have chosen (or been chosen) for a life of selfless service to others.
    It happens.
    Reasons? Likely none of them rational, although a freely-given decision of the will is thought to be a part of the self-giving; but most likely the reasons are of a spiritual nature. . . do these people ‘hear the Lord call their name’ so to speak?
    Chaplain Mike is right: it would be tra-la-la, but for the nature of the price such people pay to respond to that strange calling to the Christian life of selfless service.


  4. “…that man’s man theologian Stanley Hauerwas….”

    I have no idea what you’re talking about, though I have more than a passing familiarity with Hauerwas. What is it that in your estimation makes him a “man’s man theologian”?


  5. –> “They sacrificed a great deal to live it out in community with the developmentally disabled — and that’s as hard and demanding a life as I can imagine.”

    When I compare my Christianity to theirs, mine ends up being a lot of “tra la la.”

    I can’t cast stones.


  6. I worked for three months in a residential program for people with cerebral palsy. It was definitely a tough road. The place was supported by an infernal and impenetrable maze of public and private funding and the real saints weren’t the people who bathed the clients or cleaned up their messes, but the ones who battled for the inclusion of the ones who fell through the cracks in public health programs or insurance coverage.

    In the end, although I enjoyed the work and enjoyed the clients, I found that the things I liked in the clients were the same things I liked in other humans. They didn’t pay more than minimum wage, though, so I realized that I’d have to commit to celibacy to continue in that field. It appears that M. Vanier did what I couldn’t.


  7. Some of the stuff that sounds a little tra la la to you does to me too, when it comes from liberal elites who wouldn’t know humble service from a hole in the ground. But people like Vanier and Nouwen didn’t just talk about it or politicize it. They sacrificed a great deal to live it out in community with the developmentally disabled — and that’s as hard and demanding a life as I can imagine.


  8. I’ll be honest. I never heard about Jean Vanier until he had passed away. Reading through the different eulogies and obituaries his passing generated, I thought to myself; ‘They’ll be ready to canonize this guy over at Internet Monk. He sounds like a perfect example of Democratosis.’ All of the Usual Suspects lined up to lionize the guy; the Templeton folks, the Jesuits, the Jimmy Carter Center. His material seemed to me cut out of the same bolt of cloth that always made me wince when I read Henry Nouwen; the Woundedness of the Healer, Solidarity with the most Marginalized, etc, that reads so Christlike but always seemed a little tralala to me. When it came to Catholics I always preferred the more muscular strain represented by St. John Paul II. No surprise there.

    Then I read that he befriended serial killers in prison, and that man’s man theologian Stanley Hauerwas spoke very highly of him, and I thought, maybe this guy has the bonafides. It appears that M. Vanier wrote a book about sexuality; Man and Woman He Made Them. There’s damn little written by Christians on that topic that is worth reading, but I’ll bet that book is.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: