An Ark for the Poor: The Story of L'Arche

Novalis, 2012

An Ark for the Poor, originally published in 1995, is a history of L'Arche. Jean Vanier himself revised this updated edition as he looks back on 48 years of L'Arche communities.
In this book, L’Arche’s founder Jean Vanier, tells the story of L'Arche: its foundation and growth, its joys and sorrows. Rather than list dates and places, Vanier chronicles the transformation that occurs when the poorest and the weakest among us find a haven of love and safety to carry them through the storms of life. Vanier writes, “It is the story, especially of the beauty and fragility of people with mental handicaps. In and through the simple, humble gestures of daily living, it continues to be written, day after day. Our people help us rediscover the importance of these little gestures.”

Through this seminal work, the story of L’Arche is about an education that leads to a life of becoming human. Although this is not a political book, in its own narrative style there are social and political implications. The task of any society is to make room for the largest number of people to live well, and this story of L’Arche clearly shows how l’Arche is a place of justice where all may grow well in the various aspects of life.

The Heart of L’Arche: A Spirituality for Every Day

Novalis, 2012

This updated edition was revised by Vanier himself, as he looks back on 48 years of the spirituality of L'Arche, at the age of 84.
Readers will discover the spirit that keeps Vaniers dream alive and thriving in a world where people with disabilities are often ignored or seen as a burden on society. With simplicity and conviction, Jean Vanier shows how a life shared with people who have disabilities calls us to selflessness and risk. In response to a call from God, he moved to a tiny French village, bought a small stone house, and invited two men with disabilities to live with him. Living with these two men, he discovered his own "disabilities of the heart." He discovered that love and forgiveness did not come easily for him, and that anger did. The vulnerability that is so much part of their lives reveals our own limits and forces us to ask questions that can lead us to profound liberation.

Befriending the Stranger

Paulist Press, 2010

Rather than challenging us to “do good” to the stranger, and have compassion for the needy, Vanier encourages us to enter into friendship.
Through his friends at L’Arche, Vanier discovered that to love people is not first of all to do things for them but to reveal something to them. It is to reveal that they have a value, that they are beautiful and precious. We can only do this by recognizing the weakness, helplessness and need for forgiveness within ourselves. In order to come before our compassionate God, we need to learn how to be weak, and it is the poor who can minister to us and help us to accept our poverty. Thus Vanier says that we must necessarily move beyond the effort to “do good.” Rather we must move to a place of humility where we can allow the poor to do good to us. In this way, Vanier invites us to walk with the needy as friends, as companions because we need them, and to live in our need of them is to know deep communion with God and the world.

Jean Vanier: Essential Writings

Novalis, 2008

In this collection of essays, Vanier emphasizes the great discovery of this life: “that we are healed by the poor and the weak, that we are transformed by them if we enter into relationship with them, that the weak and the vulnerable have a gift to give to our world. They call us together, in unity and peace, to build community.” This book is about transformation, where a larger vision for the world, a vision of community life, and a vision of each heart of each person are all linked one to the other.
CAROLYN WHITNEY-BROWN, Ph. D., and her family were part of the L’Arche Daybreak community in Canada from 1990 to 1997. She co-ordinated national projects for the Canadian Council of Churches, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and the United Church of Canada before moving to Vancouver Island.

Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness

IVP Books, 2008

How are Christians to live in a violent and wounded world? Rather than contending for privilege by wielding power and authority, we can witness prophetically from a position of weakness. The church has much to learn from an often overlooked community--those with disabilities. In this fascinating book, theologian Stanley Hauerwas collaborates with Jean Vanier, founder of the worldwide L'Arche communities. For many years, Hauerwas has reflected on the lives of people with disability, the political significance of community, and how the experience of disability addresses the weaknesses and failures of liberal society. And L'Arche provides a unique model of inclusive community that is underpinned by a deep spirituality and theology. Together, Vanier and Hauerwas carefully explore the contours of a countercultural community that embodies a different way of being and witnesses to a new order--one marked by radical forms of gentleness, peacemaking and faithfulness. The authors' explorations shed light on what it means to be human and how we are to live. The robust voice of Hauerwas and the gentle words of Vanier offer a synergy of ideas that, if listened to carefully, will lead the church to a fresh practicing of peace, love and friendship. This invigorating conversation is for everyday Christians who desire to live faithfully in a world that is violent and broken.

Becoming Human

House of Anansi Press, 2008

This book is about the liberation of the human heart. In this provocative work, Jean Vanier shares his profoundly human vision for transformation – for creating a common good that radically changes our communities, our relationships, and ourselves. “Becoming Human” invites us into freedom from the tentacles of chaos and loneliness, and from those fears that provoke us to exclude and reject others. It is a freedom that opens us up and leads us to the discovery of our common humanity amid difference.
Vanier writes that this book is not essentially about the formation and organization of society. Neither is it political in scope. But he does articulate the different between open societies and closed societies: if we commit ourselves to the making of a society in which we are concerned only with our own rights, then that society must become more and more closed in on itself. We do not feel any responsibility toward others, there is no reason for us to work harmoniously toward the common good. On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to open up to others, and become concerned with their conditions, then the society in which we live changes and becomes more open.
In this pivotal work, Vanier clearly shows how we can live in peace despite our many differences. This book has inspired many people to rethink their perceptions and become more involved in their communities, and in their attitudes toward people who have disabilities. It has been central to discussions, retreats, workshops, research and teaching. Vanier shows how, through genuine encounters, we can resolve conflict and see difference as fruitful. Through his work at L’Arche, Vanier is a powerful advocate for the weaker, more vulnerable members of society. They have been his teachers, he writes, and it is his hope that he can reveal a bit about what he has learned, and is still learning about helping others to discover our common humanity.