If you are familiar with either of these two voices in Christianity, you know that they are a force to be reckoned with. Jean Vanier in his gentle, peaceful, but impassioned, call to the Church to find Jesus in the disabled, rejected, and feared in society. Stanley is renowned for his loudspoken, prophetic, and difficult calls to the Church to be the Church and not Americans. I had the rare privilege to hear each of them several times this past weekend and the unforgettable opportunity to meet each of them (though I will probably meet Stanley again, I will most likely never meet Jean again or the two of them in the same room).
Jean Vanier is the founder of l’Arche communities, communities where the disabled are placed at the center of life with assistants to surround them. In serving the disabled, through things like taking them to shop, doctor’s appointments, bathing them, dressing them, the assistants themselves are served and healed. L’Arche provides a place of healing for both the disabled and the able-bodied, and where people can begin to truly see those we fear most in society are indeed truly human and that Jesus meets us there.
Jean is a living Mother Theresa in many ways. His life and character exude peace and gentleness. He is a warm soul who loves to laugh and celebrate and is deeply aware of his own internal violence and need for healing. Jean spent the weekend telling stories from l’Arche and reminding us that we are called to meet one another, to ask, “What is your pain?” The word became flesh, and therefore the flesh is word, and in caring for the body we encounter the word of God. I cannot explain how moving it was to just listen to such a person. In some ways, it didn’t matter what he said, but his voice spoke with wisdom and the spirit of God. He teaches that in order to overcome violence in the world, we must learn to see the violence in our own selves, and then see our enemies as human. For Jean, Christ came to show us what it means to be truly human, and therefore in our common humanity we find peace.
What Stanley brought to the table was a theologian’s knowledge and call to the larger Church to see both Jean and l’Arche as a sign of what the Church may need to resemble more in the future. In a rather philosophical lecture on Monday, Stanley said that a belief in God isn’t necessary to produce a life like Jean’s, but a life like Jean’s gives a reason to believe in the type of God that Christians profess. In short, if it were not for lives like Jean’s, we would not know what the goodness of God could mean.
For me, I just loved hearing and meeting the two of them, but doing so in the company of 4 friends who were kind enough to visit. To live gently in a violent world requires community, I believe, and I am better for having had this weekend with folks who love and care about me.
If you don’t know the writing of either of these people, read read read. Or go visit l’Arche in D.C. or elsewhere.