Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jean Vanier, Community and Brokenness

For the last four hours I have been researching for a group project on Jean Vanier (think French when you say that). It really shouldn’t have taken me four hours, but I was pulled into the beauty of his writings and, more importantly, his heart that was woven throughout every syllable.

Jean Vanier is the founder of l’Arche communities. These communities are simple houses in which people with mental handicaps and people without them live together as a family. The focus is not on “normal” people caring for the “abnormal,” but on creating a home, a community, a family in which people who are handicapped and people who aren’t live together. A part of it is that those who are more physically or intellectually abled are able to serve those who are handicapped in those areas, but a part of it is also that those who are physically or intellectually handicapped are able to reveal to those who aren’t the simplicity of loving someone and being loved in return, of wearing your heart on your sleeve and revealing your darkest and most broken parts, and especially of not judging a person by their abilities but rather looking at their heart.

While reading several books and articles tonight written by or about Jean Vanier I have been brought to tears again and again. This man has truly seen people in their most broken state and has understood the need for healing in the context of long-lasting relationships built on mutual trust and surrendering of oneself. My tears have come in parts when he touched on wounds in me that have yet to be healed, as well as desires in me that have yet to be filled, or even known very well. After four hours of being immersed in Vanier and l’Arche I am a messy mixture of exhaustion, joy, and a much deeper hunger for loving and being loved than I was aware of today.

Vanier talks about the deep hurts felt by people who are handicapped. The abandonment and rejection they have each experienced is immense and profound. Their brokenness is not in their bodies or minds but in their hearts. They have been left by parents, siblings, caretakers, friends etc. They have felt the weight of their own neediness and live in fear that it is too much for anyone to handle, that they are too much for anyone to truly love. They are unable, however, to hide this because they do not have the social awareness or ability to compartmentalize their emotional experiences from their bodies. Some call this a disability, tonight I long for that disability, however. Too much is hidden beneath set faces, social graces and the wall put up between what I feel and what I do or say. I wonder if I were able to say all that I wanted to say if I would find life more livable, or relationships truer, deeper and easier to work out? Are the social graces I have been taught more of a disability than the way people with handicaps often operate?

I hunger for a people I can share meals with. Where the intimacy of being around a table sharing food together is a daily occurrence. I hunger for a people who can know my daily life and I theirs, where we share our daily lives with one another. I yearn for a people to be known in, known for me with all my beauty and gifting and flaws and brokenness, where I will be loved for all these parts of myself. I long for a people where I don’t have to be parts of a self, where I can be whole and wholly loved and accepted. I yearn to know I am accepted. I even yearn for the mess of a community where people mess up and annoy each other, where you do have to work through the hardest things in life together and you can rest knowing you won’t be abandoned in the midst of the mess, that love and acceptance and care will continue in the midst of the mess. Is there such a place? Are there such people? That is the more correct question. If there are than how on earth do I find them?

I could probably write another 20 pages tonight on all I have reflected on in the last four hours. Alas, I am bound by time and an exhausted body tonight.

For your information, here are the books I read or skimmed about/by Jean Vanier.

By Jean Vanier: “From Brokenness to Community” “The Church and Disabled Persons” “Befriending the Stanger” and “Wilderness: Essays in Honour of Frances Young.”

About Jean Vanier: “Messy Love” By Micheal W. Higgins, and “The Miracle, The Message, the Story: Jean Vanier and l’Arche” by Kathryn Spink.

Also, l’Arches website: l'Arche USA

May Shalom visit your house tonight.