Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jean Vanier Is a Genius, Final Entry (for Now)


Reading Community & Growth by Jean Vanier has been a long-overdue pleasure. Vanier, founder of the L'Arche communities--able-bodied and disabled people living, serving and worshiping together--is acutely aware of the interior and societal challenges that inhibit how we relate to one another. His other book, Becoming Human, is similarly profound, but this one is agenda-setting: a must-read (and must-re-read) for people who fancy themselves visionaries and architects of life together. There's a whole chapter about meetings, for Pete's sake.

The ego is a key theme for Vanier, a perpetual struggle for individuals, communities and whole cultures. Not that egoism is a bogeyman, but he does see it asserting and propagating itself in all corners of life. His solution is important: we don't berate ourselves and others for our ego indulgence; we recognize that behind it is a disordered apprehension of love. We, however, don't love others out of their egoism, because to do so would be to indulge our own egos and consequently to do harm to the other. Instead we remind others, and with them ourselves, that the love of God is the stuff that we are made of, and the love of one another is the stuff that we were made for. What follows is the last quote I'll post from Vanier for a while; I think of it as something like his benediction to his readers, a way of sending us from his book back into our life together.
We have to remind ourselves constantly that we are not saviours. We are simply a tiny sign, among thousands of others, that love is possible, that the world is not condemned to a struggle between oppressors and oppressed, that class and racial warfare is not inevitable. We are a sign that there is hope, because we believe that the Father loves us and sends his Spirit to transform our hearts and lead us from egoism to love, so that we can live everyday life as brothers and sisters.

Sartre is wrong when he says that hell is other people. It is heaven that is other people. They only become hell when we are already locked into our own egoism and darkness. If they are to become heaven, we have to make the slow passage from egoism to love. It is our own hearts and eyes that have to change.

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