Growth begins when we begin to accept our own weakness.
I just listened to an amazing podcast from Krista Tippet’s Speaking of Faith. She did a radio “pilgrimage” to the L’Arche community in Clinton, Iowa to see how Jean Vanier’s vision has grown and become something truly wonderful and amazing. For those who don’t know, a brief biography:
Jean Vanier is the son of the late Georges P. Vanier, a former Governor General of Canada, and his wife Pauline. He was educated in England and Canada; for several years, he was with the navy. He resigned in 1950 and went to France to complete a doctorate in philosophy on Aristotle.
In 1964, with the support of his spiritual advisor, Père Thomas, he invited two men with a developmental disability, Raphael Simi and Phillippe Seux, to live with him in an old house in the French village of Trosly-Breuil.
He named the house L’Arche, after Noah’s Ark, and gradually welcomed not only more men and women with developmental disabilities but also the assistants who would live and work with them.
Since then, L’Arche has grown into an international federation of more than 100 communities in nearly 30 countries.
Vanier later also founded Faith and Light, an international network of support, which brings together the families of the disabled.
Jean Vanier has dedicated his life to working with physically and developmentally disabled adults. His philosophy is reflected in the guiding principle of L’Arche, which is that the weak and the disabled – indeed, all who are lonely and excluded from society – have much to teach us. Vanier believes true spirituality comes from our relationships with the less fortunate. Spirituality then becomes not an expression of self-indulgence, but of love for one another and for God. Vanier led the international L’Arche federation until 1981, when he stepped down.
The journey through the Clinton community at times made me smile, and at times moved me to tears. It’s really an amazing place.
Ultimately Krista realizes that she’s “learning less here about disabilities than what people with disabilities seem to teach others of what it means to be human.”
She then goes on to quote an amazing story from Jean Vanier:
I remember when a man who had gone through a very deep experience in one of our homes had been kept awake all night by one of the people who had screamed all night. He came to see me the next morning and he said, “You know, I wept all morning. I was in the chapel. I thought I could have killed him.” And we talked about it, and I said to him, “You know, I think this is probably one of the most important days of your life. You came to L’Arche thinking you could do good to the poor, and you have. You’ve done a lot of good. But today you are discovering that you are poor.” We all need help, and it’s only as we discover that “I have a handicap,” that “I am broken,” that “We’re all broken,” and then we can begin to work at it.
I’ve been grounding out those last sentences for the last couple of hours. I still don’t think I appreciate how true it is. So listen and tell me what you think…
*edit* if you’re in the atlanta area this monday Atlanta Theology on Tap will be hosting a conversation around this podcast at the Vortex in Little Five.