Our Life Together gathers significant letters from four decades of Vanier's correspondence, beginning in 1964, the year he founded the first L'Arche community. In a meditative style, Vanier reflects on world events, his travels, his own journey through his faith and his deep desire for interfaith dialogue and peace. These letters reveal a man of tremendous insight and compassion, a leader whose example can inspire us all to do great things.
Life within a L’Arche community offers a valuable alternative to the world outside, because it has a way of enriching, strengthening and giving direction to the lives of community members. Whether in L’Arche for a short or long time, those witnessing community life first hand feel that their lives have taken a different direction – perhaps a deeper understanding of what it is to be human and experience belonging. In this book, the journey of L’Arche answers an important question about what gives L’Arche its particular quality. The very identity of L’Arche is based on relationship and how people with different gifts live together. The first element in relationship, writes Vanier, is that relationship at L’Arche centers on the body – eating meals together, dressing, bathing, touching – just physically caring for people and being attentive to the body, to medical care, revealing to one another in concrete ways that there is love, home and family. Personally and collectively a ‘communion of heart’ is lived out, where the body is offered, broken, blest and shared.
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.
In a new and fully revised edition of a classical text, Jean Vanier examines the significance and sources of human sexuality. Drawing on his years of experience of Christian community life with and for people with disabilities, he explores the implications of the relationship of man and woman from a Christian and community standpoint.
When Vanier speaks of the cry for love within a person who has disabilities, he draws the wider parallel of that same search within every man and woman; the fragility and vulnerability of each person at the level of the heart and in the search for relationship. An intimate and searching book, Man and Woman God Made Them contains a wealth of insight into the meaning and source of human sexuality. Vanier writes, “Education for emotional and sexual life means helping someone to have a sense of others, to be able to listen, to love and to have compassion and tenderness and, not least, to become responsible. True sexual education awakens the heart, and helps someone more towards a mature affectivity.”
The reflections in this book come from talks that Jean Vanier gave at a conference in June 2004. The conference gathered people from many religious backgrounds and nationalities to encounter difference and to explore and celebrate that difference. A fundamental principle of encountering another in peace is a belief that each person is important. Even if you cannot speak, writes Vanier, even if you cannot walk, even if you’ve been abandoned, you have a gift to give the other. What makes this work particularly meaningful is the communication and mutual trust that Vanier draws attention to: we must discover how to enter into each other’s story so that there is dialogue and mutual trust.
Vanier starts by pointing out that happiness, whatever else people may say, is the greatest concern of our life. In other words, to be happy, to know happiness is the great desire of every man and woman. In this book, Vanier shows that Aristotle is one of the great witnesses to this quest for happiness.
As a vital activity, happiness touches on important moral question for today: “Is human life merely a matter of being successful, of doing one’s work and performing one’s civic and familial duties well? Is human happiness resting in the awareness that we have lived successfully, have been awarded honour, and are surrounded by our family and friends? Where, in that case do celebrations and possessions belong? Isn’t happiness for some people today more readily associated with exciting activities and moments of exaltation and enthusiasm?”
In answer to these questions, Vanier explains that if he had to devise a moral philosophy for our time that was accessible to everyone he would start with three points: First, every human being, regardless of his or her limitation, culture or religion, is important and valuable and should be respected. Second, the worst ill is disdain of another person, which can lead to oppression and suppression or human life. Third, in order to progress towards the fullness of life that is inscribed in his or her being every person, at some time or the other need others – needs relationship.
Addressing both the value and short coming of Aristotelian ethics, Vanier suggests that a person should not be defined according to his or her capacity for reason, but rather his or her capacity for relationship. Vanier stresses “capacity” for relationship and not relationship itself. In this way, he offers a more complete vision of what it means to be “a person,” and how we can know happiness.
Jean Vanier celebrates the gospel of John in this meditative work. His writing is personal, inspiring, and challenging. It calls all Christians to encounter the fullness of the life lived in close communion with God. Vanier writes: “These insights that I share in this book come from the life of Jesus in me…They also flow from my life with people who are weak and who have taught me to welcome Jesus from the place of poverty in me.” This book educated, guides and invites us into a closer relationship with Jesus.