Jean Vanier is the founder of l'Arche and co-founder of Faith and Light, communities with and for people with disabilities. He makes his home in the first l-Arche community in Trosly-Breuil (France), and travels to give formation in anthropology and on the gospel message. This paperback consists of talks given at a retreat in the Dominican Republic for people immersed in l'Arche in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Vanier begins with a meditation on Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and concludes that today he would be shedding tears over "the countries where inequality, division, and exclusion are so dominant." Separation between people in families, groups, communities, and nations causes widespread pain and anguish. Whereas Jesus tried to bring peace into the world, we go in the other direction, turning the world into a place of rivalry, conflict, and war between races, religions, and social classes. Instead of reaching out to each other in love, we close off to each other in enmity. But there is an alternative:
"In the midst of all the violence and corruption of the world
God invites us today to create new places of belonging,
places of sharing, of peace and of kindness,
places where no-one needs to defend himself or herself;
places where each one is loved and accepted with one's own fragility, abilities and disabilities.
This is my vision for our churches:
that they become places of belonging, places of sharing."
Vanier's vision is a worthy one, not only on a grand scale but also on the personal. So many people carry their own private collection of wounds and battle scars from being rejected at one time or another and from being told they are not lovable. Try to imagine a religious community that revels in the diversity of its members and the unity they share together. Churches must take seriously the call to reach out to those who are marginalized in society. Vanier notes:
"The secret of Jesus is his simplicity and humility,
the way he embraces the lost and the broken,
and with them creates communities of hope,
communities of the Kingdom."
The author not only asks us to imagine a place that takes in all those who are shunned and excluded everywhere else; he challenges us to welcome all that is strange inside of ourselves (the violence, the obsessions, the anger, the anguish that we cannot control). We will then be more able to reconcile with our enemies, those who really do not wish us well. This is the way of Jesus:
"We are called to share our lives with people in pain,
to live a covenant with them.
We have all met people who have been wounded in life.
We have all been hurt at some point
and at some place in our own lives.
We need to deepen our understanding of our reaction to pain
and reflect on that reaction.
How do we react when we are faced with our own pain
and with the pain of others?"
Jean Vanier presents a radical overview of the spiritual practice of hospitality that takes within its embrace strangers, the pariahs and outcasts of society, those who are different, the shadow sides of ourselves, and our enemies who have their own burden of pain. Loving, forgiving, and opening our hearts is an alternative to the world's divisions and weapons.