Throughout history exceptional humans have given up wealth, power and privilege to teach us about a great but obscure form of power. These include Catherine of Siena, Donna Gracia Mendes of Spain, Frances of Assisi, and Prince Ashoka of India. Jean Vanier is one of these exceptional humans.
He was born into the power of privilege. The Vaniers were prominent Canadians – his father Georges a diplomat and eventual Governor General. His mother Pauline a popular and enthusiastic humanitarian. He joined the naval culture of power, force and might during the second world war, while still in his teens.
When he left the navy in 1950, he experienced the power of fear and selfishness – a spiritual search that ended when he founded L'Arche. Since then he has been living and teaching us about the not so obvious power of weakness, vulnerability and imperfection.
Macleans described him as the Canadian who inspires the world and the Globe and Mail called him, "our nation builder." His CBC Massey lecture and accompanying book, Becoming Human remains its most popular. Yet I suspect many of us will only appreciate how blessed we were to live in his time, and with his grace, after he dies. We will regret not paying more attention to his work and not attending when he visited our community.
Fortunately some friends of Jean have decided to do something about that. They have created a new website to recognize the simple greatness of his work. Greatness that has seen him compared to other people of peace like Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Gandhi.
Jean Vanier, who is often presented as a prophet, looks at the poor and says, ‘These are the prophets of our time.’” For over 50 years he has shared his life with people with an intellectual disability – laughing, celebrating, learning, giving and receiving. And inspiring another 135 L'Arche communities around the world. That has allowed him to develop his vision of what it means to become human. He has no interest in pity, charity or 'good works'. He has been given his life by those he lives with. Along with his understanding about the mutuality of relationships and the discovery of strength at the heart of weakness.
Openness does not imply weakness, nor a tolerance which ignores truth and justice. Being open does not mean adhering to others' ideologies. It means being truly sympathetic and welcoming to people, listening to them, and in particular to people who are weak or poor or oppressed, so as to live in communion with them." – Jean Vanier
To receive an inspirational reflection from Jean Vanier each day click here.
I very much enjoy Jean Vanier’s books and t.v. segments of long ago on Vision Network (20 yrs. ago) I have seen him in person and over the years while working with People with a Developmental Disability I have kept the Vanier approach in mind when I become upset, concerned or stressed. Thank you for writing about him. Gloria D. Enoch, S.F.O.
Thank you so much for writing about Jean in such an affirming way, Al. It is true that he brings an understanding to the power of weakness and its power to transform.