Our Life Together Hardcover – Oct 4 2007
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?This collection of writings brings us into conversational contact with a soul made to touch others. No one can read his words without feeling more implicated in the world?s need for compassionate reality.?
About the Author
JEAN VANIER, the son of former governor general Georges Vanier, was educated in England and Canada. After eight years in the Royal and the Canadian Navy, he went to study in France, where he received his doctorate in philosophy, later teaching at St. Michael’s College (University of Toronto). Distressed by the plight of people with developmental challenges, he founded L ’Arche communities, and Faith and L ight, two international networks of communities for people with disabilities. With many bestselling books and humanitarian awards to his name―including the Pope Paul VI International Prize, the International Peace Award and the Companion of the Order of Canada―Vanier lives in Trosly, France, in the original L’Arche community he founded in 1964.
Top Customer Reviews
This is an amazing book. I'm not really one for biographies but this compilation of extremely well written letters full of compassion, truth, advice, history, and stories are captivating. I've been slowly reading/savoring this book over the last few months. What an incredible model of how human's can live together in a very normal way, the way God intends us to live.
As a non Catholic Christian I encourage all Christians to read this. In fact I encourage all people of all faiths to read it.
Jean Vanier, son of our Governor General, a privileged young man seeks God's will for his life...and ends up devoting it to the mentally challenged ...living in community with them...founding L'Arche Homes all over the world, India, Africa, Honduras, Canada.
Reading his letters "home" to his community as he travels establishing new homes...one feels a part of their loving communal life.
A book to savour, great summertime reading.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Even Canadians, then, may be forgiven for not knowing of JEAN Vanier's work in founding the "L'Arche" communities which today number 133, on six continents, in 30 countries -- group homes where individuals with mental disabilities live together in community with those who don't have such challenges.
I met Jean Vanier once, together with my friend "Michael" from a L'Arche home (one of four) here in Winnipeg. Vanier gave a talk, surrounded on stage by his friends with "developmental disabilities" (the "mentally-handicapped" as my friend Michael describes himself). Vanier spoke about Jesus (mostly quoting from Luke's gospel - his own favorite). This is something Vanier does better than anyone else I've ever heard `in person.' He speaks gently but with remarkable authority: never a wasted word; only a sense of deep thought, conveyed through the most gentle, most beautiful simplicity of expression.
Retired now, and in his 80s, Jean Vanier compiled this 550 page book -- a collection of the best of his "letters about L'Arche" - dedicated to "Barbara" the woman who transcribed/translated every one of his letters "sometimes changing them, to "add her own five cents," as she said. (More about her in a moment)
"I was teaching ethics," Vanier says, "at the University of Toronto -- the first time I'd ever taught. I was SUPPOSED to teach ethics, but found my students weren't terribly interested in justice. So instead, I started talking about the meaning of friendship and about sexuality. And all of a sudden the classroom wasn't big enough to hold all of the students who wanted to listen!"
As with hundreds of "retreats I gave later in life," Vanier says "I discovered I had a gift for announcing Jesus. God seemed to be at work in and through my words and the passion and joy that sustained them. I loved teaching, and I loved the university students, but I felt it was not my vocation, the final goal of my life."
During this time in Canada (1966) Vanier was "able to spend time with my parents at the governor-general's residence; my father was the first French Canadian to be made `head-of-state' (Queen's Representative) and he was profoundly humbled by the role. He often said to me, `I could never have imagined ending up in this position,' and that he felt it was "God's will, for this humble messenger."
Fast forward one year. Jean Vanier is back in France, visiting a priest friend "in a small village an hour north of Paris," where his friend "Pere Thomas was chaplain of a small institution that welcomed 30 men with intellectual disabilities. I was touched by the men who lived there, many of whom had been locked up in mental institutions or hidden by their families.
"Wanting to stay close to my friend, I bought a small, rather dilapidated house just `down the road' . . . I called this home L'ARCHE - after the ark Noah built to save God's creatures from the flood."
After visiting nearby psychiatric hospitals "to see what society was doing for people with intellectual disabilities," Vanier invited two men "Raphael and Philippe" into his new home. "There wasn't a specific reason," he says, "no rational reason . . . it just seemed obvious: they were crying out for relationship and I could provide it. Practically every thing I did with L'Arche was intuitive, based on the sense that `This is what should be done'."
His actions were motivated Vanier said, by the simple fact that "there was a beauty in these disabled men that was being crushed at the large, dismal, violent institutions in which they had been put. These were persons, and precious to God . . . and though I couldn't do anything on a large scale, at least I could live with a few of them and help them to find a decent life and the freedom to be themselves."
About 100 L'Arche homes later, Vanier was asked by a television interviewer whether "any single experience in particular" led him to L'Arche. "I said to the interviewer, `Are you married?' He was a bit taken aback, so I asked, `Well, why did you choose your wife? Was it because she's intelligent? Or was it because she was beautiful? or was it `Just the right thing to do at the right moment'? He said he thought it was `the right thing to do at the right moment.' You do it because it's obvious. Just do it!"
In the last of these wonderful-to-read letters, Vanier recalls how "John Paul II was another person who came to truly understand L'Arche - but perhaps only when he became ill with Parkinson's disease.
"I remember the first time I had breakfast with him (in 1987 when he was still well) I explained to him how a disabled person, like Eric, who was blind and deaf, was a `healing presence' at L'Arche and that Eric `transformed' those who lived in relationship with him." John Paul said to somebody, afterwards, that he hadn't understood what I meant. It was after he became sick that a deep bond arose between us, when he understood how someone `made little,' by a severe handicap could transform others.
"And in the year before his death, in January 2004, at a meeting in Rome that focused on the disabled, John Paul said that people with disabilities `can help us to discover a new world, where love is stronger than aggressiveness.'
"After the Pope's meeting, I called his secretary to ask if I could attend the Pope's Mass; he said yes, but that I would be alone with John Paul. It was a very special, moving time together - a time of prayer, communion and mutual recognition. He knew that I loved him in his weakness, and I knew that he loved L'Arche and me in our weakness too."
Now `grown old and frail,' Vanier says "the children of L'Arche now are parents, mothering me - and these are people with disabilities! They love me and see me weak and fragile, and their tenderness rises up from within them."
"I was with an old couple recently and I was holding hands with the wife when she said she didn't like growing old. And I teased, `Madame, if we were 30 years old, I couldn't be holding your hand in front of your husband!' When we are old we discover other things: we discover tenderness and fragility."
In a sort of `wind beneath my wings' acknowledgement, Jean Vanier dedicates this book of letters to the woman who transcribed them all (from 1967) - his life-long secretary "Barbara" (he doesn't share her last name). "She was looking forward to the book but she died before it came out. I have often been in the sun, visible. She was always in the shade, invisible, humbly hidden.
"In her room, six feet by six feet, where she prayed, slept, worked, met people and sometimes ate, Barbara was at the heart of L'Arche. She was a tender and gentle presence, a listening presence for so many. Her light and her life revealed the presence of God."
-- Jean Vanier (2007)