Jean Vanier -- a life of Love

In 1963, after spending time with the Navy, exploring the possibility of becoming a priest, and studying philosophy, a 34 years-old man was invited by his spiritual guide to visit a village in France. The visit opened his eyes to the enormous suffering that lies all around us. What particularly moved him was the state of people who have mental challenges and (at that time) were locked up in asylums  The next year, he took up residence in a bare cottage (with no running water or toilet) and invited two men who were challenged to live with him. He was not sure what the road ahead was — but he took this step. In talks and writings later, he would comment that he was changed by them, that they became ”teachers of tenderness.”

The man callled this cottage L’Arche (the Ark)  Today, there are about 150+ L’Arche communities around the world in 35+ countries  In these communities (and many many places elsewhere around the world), people live life with the conviction that ”we are all called to do, not extraordinary things, but very ordinary things, with an extraordinary love” (Community and Growth). They do this by embracing and caring for the sick, the abandoned, the despised — the people, if i may say so, rejected by the practical, conventional world.

In Man and Woman God Made Them, Jean writes — ”A society which discards those who are weak and non-productive risks exaggerating the development of reason, organisation, aggression and the desire to dominate. It becomes a society without a heart, without kindness - a rational and sad society, lacking celebration, divided within itself and given to competition, rivalry and, finally, violence.”

Jean’s response to this reality was not a cynical withdrawal away from a brutish world but to live the life described in sacred texts — a life that demonstrates that ”The response to war is to live like brothers and sisters. The response to injustice is to share. The response to despair is a limitless trust and hope. The response to prejudice and hatred is forgiveness.”

People who have met and spent time with Jean Vanier use words such as humility and phrases such as ”palpable holiness”  i think, at the heart of his life lay a comprehension of what Love means — and a Faith that if each of us grows in Love, ”the prisons of our egoism” will unlock and the world will become a better place 

Jean Vanier passed on yesterday — when i first heard this, my flag moved down half-mast  but as i spent time on my notes about him, i realised that this is an inappropriate response. I think his life is a call to action and, the only tribute of value is for me to re-commit to making myself better every moment — and consequently, perhaps being of some use to the world. 

Mary Ann Evans writes in Middlemarch”What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?” Jean taught us that the meaning of life lies in this.