Rediscovering a common humanity beyond difference.
Drawing on thirty years since the founding of the l'Arche communities, Vanier describes the beauty and holiness of life and the need to overcome the various divisions that separate us from one another. Vanier’s work is a call to unity founded on the covenant of love to which God is calling all community members. This calling implies welcome and respect for differences. Unity at l’Arche presupposes that the most vulnerable in each community is at the centre, paradoxically holding the community together. In this way each community is in solidarity with one another. Vanier’s message is clear: The communities of l’Arche want to be in solidarity with the poor of the world, and with all those who take part in the struggle for justice.
This book is based on the thirteen part television series called “Images of Love, Words of Hope: Jean Vanier in Conversation.” In an age and time when there is much confusion, discouragement and little direction, Vanier’s vision and insights on the human condition are deeply valuable. “The mystery of God,” writes Vanier, “is that He does not come into our world of power; He comes into our littleness and weakness.” Vanier’s message of love and hope is simple: We can walk together along the road of pain, but also the road of joy and peace. Together we find strength and compassion to create of this world a place where there is greater peace.
Vanier captures the beauty, power and holiness of Jesus. But more importantly, the simplicity of his writing makes the man Jesus come alive in all his humanity, revealing his immense goodness and love for everyone he meets. This book is the story of Jesus as it is told in the four Gospels, brought together into one meditation, giving a clear portrait of Jesus as he was and as he lived, a clear vision of his message. The author writes that the Gospels are there not just to lead us to belief, the belief that he is living in us today and in the Church, but to teach us how to live and to act in our broken world today. Through Jesus the Gift of Love, Vanier offers us his gift of seeing deeply into the heart of the Gospels.
As followers of Jesus, Vanier writes, “tonight, tomorrow and the next morning, we must put ourselves in the perspective of refinding Jesus.” When we are rich, when we have a name, when we have friends, or when we are members of respected groups we are never really oppressed. On the other hand there are many without work, with no security, living off meager wages, living day by day in unbearable situations of fear and anxiety, with children sick or other dependents. We know these situations. Each of us have met them: they are in the cities, they are all around us. But Vanier points out that what is frightening is that the disciples of Jesus are so frequently in comfort. He asks two questions: On which side of the road is Jesus? On which side of the road are his disciples? In Followers of Jesus, Vanier invites us to listen to those on the margins and be transformed by them.
The text in this book originates as two lectures given by Jean Vanier as part of the Wit Lecture series at Harvard University in 1988. He speaks eloquently of the lessons he has learned from l’Arche. He speaks of his own healing and his own need for people. He speaks of the power of belonging and how it satisfies the deepest needs in people. Vanier does not romanticize community. For him, community is a place of struggle, conflict and confrontation. Community is a place where the ego dies, a place of surrender. However it is also a place of celebration, joy and ultimately of human fulfillment. For Vanier, community is a place where we encounter God: God is present in the poverty and wounds of our hearts. God is not just present in the capacity to heal but rather in the need to be healed.
Using word and image, Vanier writes from his experience in Calcutta, India. Our lives, he writes, are fleeting moments in which are found the seeds of eternal peace, unity and love as well as the seeds of war, dissension and indifference. The provoking question he raises is this: when will we rise and awaken to the choice before each of us, to water and give light to one or the other of these two kinds of seeds? This book is dedicated to all those of the House of the Dying in Calcutta (now called Kolkata). It is dedicated, he writes, to the faces shown in the book, faces and people who represent you and me, and all those who are fearful, and all those who aspire to universal peace and solidarity.