This Vanier classic is a brilliant series of ‘starting points for reflection’ on the nature and meaning of community. For example, Vanier writes that our communities should be signs of joy and celebration. If we are accepted with our limitations as well as our abilities, our communities gradually become places of liberation, fruitfulness and fecundity.
Writing in a deeply compassionate way, Vanier says that a community grows like a child. “Each of us is on a journey – the journey of life. Each one of us is a pilgrim on the road. The period of human growth from the time we are infants in our mother’s womb to the day of our death, is both very long and very short. And this growth is set between two frailties – the weakness of the tiny child and that of the person who is dying.” Community therefore is founded on frailty. Wisely, Vanier calls us to be in touch with our vulnerabilities as individuals and as a community.
A community is also found on the trust its member have for each other, and for the process of growth. He speaks of the “gift” and the “anti-gift” within community. There are people who come as ‘saviours’. They have the intelligence to understand and sometime exploit the failings of community. They are attractive; they talk well. They tend to want to do their own thing and prove their points. If a person comes into community with this state of mind, it will be a disaster for them and the community: anti-gift.
The right way to come into community is to feel at ease there, ready to serve and be respectful of structure and traditions. A project or a new idea has to grow in collaboration with others and not as a way of proving anyone’s capability. Availability for service is one of the most marvelous gifts that we can find in community. The gift of availability, writes Vanier, can be transmitted from one person to another like a fire of love. It brings a community to life.
Thus, Vanier’s insights are most helpful to all service providers because they provide an orientation as to how a person is to show up and live community - safely, ethically, and respectfully.