Thursday, 9 May 2019

"Community is Mission" and "A Sign of Peace"

I posted this some time ago, but want to re-post it in honour of this humble man, who has now moved to his eternal home. Jean Vanier passed away yesterday, after a battle with thyroid cancer. Here's part of the announcement from his organization's newsletter: 

We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Jean Vanier. Jean passed away peacefully today Tuesday, May 7 at 2:10 a.m. in Paris surrounded by some relatives. In recent days, while remaining very present, he had quickly declined.
We all know Jean’s place in the history of L’Arche and Faith and Light and in the personal stories of a great many of us. Jean’s life has been one of exceptional fruitfulness. First and foremost, we wish to give thanks for that...
...In his last message, a few days ago, Jean said: “I am deeply peaceful and trustful. I’m not sure what the future will be but God is good and whatever happens it will be the best. I am happy and give thanks for everything. My deepest love to each one of you.”


"The world can only move toward peace if we recognize 
that every human being is my brother or my sister."
- Jean Vanier


A few days ago I received Jean Vanier's autumn newsletter and it struck me how its overriding message was peace. In a world where peace sometimes seems nothing more than an illusion, a wish, a dream, a prayer, a hope. In a world where politicians speak openly about killing helpless babies, rejecting refugees, building walls and say disrespectful things about their fellow human beings. What's even sadder, is that these so-called leaders have a strong following! If we care about love and peace, how can we in good conscience jump on the band wagon of a person who portrays the opposite? Can you imagine a world where church, political, school... leaders would learn from people like Jean Vanier? His lessons are profound, timely, relevant for all, and have eternal value.  


I first heard about Jean Vanier from a friend who had read some of his books. He's Canadian, the author of 30 books, a philosopher, theologian and humanitarian. I bought his book, Becoming Human and was challenged, encouraged and amazed at his humble spirit. This is the kind of book you place on the keeper shelf and pick it up again and again to glean wisdom, and yes, be challenged. It's not very often that I want to meet the author after reading his/her book, but I did this time.

As I learned more about this influential man, who lives the love-message he spreads, I was deeply touched by his selfless and meaningful work: In 1964 Jean founded L'Arche, an international federation of communities spread over 35 countries. These communities are for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. Today, Jean lives as a member of the original L'Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France. In 2015 he received the Templeton Foundation Prize.

In his Templeton Prize News Conference speech Jean Vanier spoke about love, peace, and community, and how important these elements are for every human being. It became abundantly clear, this award was more about the people he serves than about himself.
 "My dream for this magnificent prize you have given me, and through me to L'Arche and Faith & Light, is for us to create spaces and opportunities for such meetings, meetings which transform hearts. Places where those caught up in the world of success and normality, and those who are in need, but who are also teachers of love and of simplicity, come together. Places where they can share together, eat together, laugh and celebrate together, weep and pray together; where the hearts of those who carry power in our society can be melted and rest; and where all together we may become a sign of peace."

I've lived in a christian community my entire life and something Jean mentioned in his Templeton Award acceptance speech resonated with me and at the same time challenged me: 
"Community is a beautiful thing. Not what some call a closed group, where we know we're the best and cut ourselves off from others, cause we're in our little club. Community is mission; bringing people together, that we can recognize each other as precious... Mission is growing in love... We don't have to be better than anybody. We can be ourselves, each with our gifts, humanity, beauty, fragility...
It's true, all too often our community is "our little club" where we're not very open to including others. We're so caught up with our own tiny world we forgot that we're just a speck in the bigger picture. While Hutterites do reach out beyond the comfortable lives they've carved out for themselves, there's so much more we can do - there's so much need in the world, locally and in far off places. Our material gifts were not meant to be hoarded, but shared with others.  Perhaps one of the secrets to peace and community is putting our own "needs" and petty grievances into perspective by occupying ourselves with reaching out to the less fortunate. There's nothing like volunteering at a homeless shelter to open our eyes to the fact that we have no concept of being hungry and cold, owning nothing, having no home or loving family. Suddenly that new pair of shoes, or that dishwasher we thought we couldn't do without, are not so important.



Jean Vanier, on what it means to be fully human
 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding
Romans 14:17-19

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