“Those we most often exclude from the normal life of society, people with disabilities, have profound lessons to teach us”
Jean Vanier, “Becoming Human”
I agree with this perceptive quote by Jean Vanier. I think that we all have our own disabilities in some ways, not necessarily in physical form but rather we all have some brokenness and fragilities within us that we want to hide from the society, many a times, because society as a whole generally is not very kind and understanding towards our brokenness and fragilities, due to their competitive mindset. So the act of excluding from the normal life of society people with disabilities that are visible also has profound lessons to teach us, as it probably is a symptom of how we have not embraced and accepted our own brokenness and fragilities. Only when we embrace our own disabilities will we also be able to accept others with disabilities. It reminds me of Peter Rollins’ view about why people in the religious circles reject others who are different from them – it is because they see a reflection of the otherness in other people that they have rejected in themselves. Similarly, by learning to embrace the otherness in themselves, they will be able to accept others who are different from them without attempting to convert them to their own beliefs.
Some reviewers also made a similar observation in Jean Vanier’s book “Becoming Human”. One of them wrote: “Vanier gently explores human frailty and dignity, our need for individual affirmation and loving community, issues of freedom and forgiveness, and the nature of true maturity. Perhaps all disabled people, in the sense that includes everyone, can gain some insight and inspiration here.”
Another reviewer wrote: “”Becoming Human” is a wondeerful and insightful gift on how to heal ourselves so we can see everyone else.”
Yes, we are all disabled in the sense that we are all broken and fragile in some ways, and when we love, accept and heal ourselves, we will also love, accept and heal others too. I think this is profound wisdom shared by Jean Vanier.
I learnt that he has written a book on this subject called “From Brokenness to Comnunity”. One reviewer wrote:
“After nearly 20 years, Vanier’s words still ring true. His insights are at the heart of the gospel. One of his more powerful observations is that Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, not those who serve the poor. We all need to attend the “university of the poor” to learn of our own brokenness and so enter into community.
This book takes only couple of hours to read, but will take years of living to digest.”
(From a book review of “From Broken to Community” by Jean Vanier in Amazon.com)
Another reviewer shared a similar observation on his book in this article:
“When we follow Jesus, writes Vanier, we are called to reject certain aspects of the world. We accept loss of wealth and status and comfort. We embrace downward mobility and climb back down the world’s ladder of success. This process can begin when we discover our mutual brokenness. We acknowledge our poverty and then we understand what it means that Jesus came to serve the poor. We recognize our infirmity and then we discover God doesn’t work primarily through those who think they are well, but through those who know they are sick. All this happens in the context of community—a place of pain and trial, but also reconciliation and celebration. Community is where the ego goes to die, and in its place we find resurrection, communion, and even salvation.”
Yes, perhaps the gospel is really all about discovering and acknowledging our mutual brokenness and poverty. It is about becoming human all over again, just as Jesus became human to serve humanity as an example of how we too can serve one another as a community where we find resurrection, communion and salvation.
Jean Vanier Part 4: Healing and Inner Liberation
OPC has posted to its website a four part video about Jean Vanier’s talk about Healing and Inner Liberation. Jean Vanier founder of L’Arche and Faith and Light communities sits down for interview with Heather Lee Kilty about healing relationships and ideas about psychotherapy and counselling.
OPC has posted to its website a four part video about Jean Vanier’s talk about Healing and Inner Liberation. Part four of four
Much of what Jean Vanier’s message resonates with me, such as we all have generosity inside us as human beings that flow into a meeting and communion of hearts as we see one another as our brothers and sisters, listening to one another’s stories. He also quoted Martin Luther King about accepting our own brokenness in order to welcome others who are also broken in their own ways. I agree that relationships are about unconditional love and acceptance; as he put it: “I love you not just because you can do things, but because in your being you are precious. Even if one day you cannot do things, you are still precious, and I am happy to be in relationship with you.” I also agree with his vision of a community of togetherness in which we discover the preciousness of each person.
On a similar note, I like what is written here in Jean Vanier’s book “From Brokenness to Community” that describes his understanding of humanity:
“the most precious human gifts are rooted in weakness, and that in welcoming the poorest and most vulnerable among us, it is we who wil be spiritually nourished by them” (page 6)
(From “From Brokenness to Community” by Jean Vanier)
I believe this is because within each of us there is a poverty and vulnerability that we need to accept and embrace, in order to be spiritually nourished by the very weakness that the performance-based and competitive despise.
Similarly, in his book “Becoming Human“, I agree with his description that “Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfil the needs of the human heart. Loneliness is one form, is, in fact, essential to our humanity. Loneliness can become a source of creative energy, the energy that drives us down new paths to create new things or to seek more truth and justice in the world. Artists, poets, mystics, prophets, those who do not seem to fit into the world or the ways of society, are frequently lonely. They feel themselves to be different, dissatisfied with the status quo and with mediocrity; dissatisfied with our competitive world where so much energy goes into ephemeral things. Frequently, it is the lonely man or woman who revolts against injustice and seeks new ways. It is as if a fire is burning within them, a fire fuelled by loneliness. Loneliness is the fundamental force that urges mystics to a deeper union with God. … So loneliness opens up mystics to a desire to love each and every human being as God loves them.”
Yes, recognising that loneliness is part of being human and essential to our humanity and embracing our loneliness can enable us to become more human and also more humane, as we will also be able to reach out and relate to others who are feeling lonely too. I think it is unfortunate that in much of the institutional church world, the leaders seem to be repressing loneliness in themselves and the congregation, almost as if they are using “church fellowship” and positive-sounding doctrines to cover up the feeling of loneliness. I was also reflecting that the institutional church as a whole in the evangelical christian circles tend to marginalise and shame those who happen to look down or depressed, by making inappropriate jokes such as “some christians are baptised in lemon juice”, which only come across as insensitive to those who are genuinely suffering in their own lives. This is contrary to the gospel Jesus came to bring – to welcome the downtrodden and comfort the weary with unconditonal love and acceptance, as I have come to realise more and more.