Quotes are from Krista Tippets 2007 interview with Jean Vanier from OnBeing episode aired May 28, 2015, unless otherwise stated.
Of the many images of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States two in particular stood out to me:
- when the 5 year old daughter of undocumented immigrants, Sophia Cruz, managed to get past the barricades and run to him. The guards at first fended her off. “The Pope does not have time for each and every child to run to him for a blessing. However, Pope Francis saw the courage of the girl, and beckoned her to come to him, and she was lifted up and he gave her a hug.
There is a wisdom in tenderness.
The second was when he met 10 Year old Michael Keating who has cerebral palsy..among the masses he bends over to give this boy a kiss.
There is a wisdom in tenderness.
Jesus welcomes children with a spirit of tenderness.
He lifts them in his arms and blesses them.
the kingdom of God belongs to them.
Because children know what it is to be human.
Little children don’t judge, little children aren’t motivated by competition or outdoing. Little children were the lowly of Jesus' society...
OF such as these belong the kingdom of heaven....
The incredible thing about children is they're unified in their body—
whereas we, we as adults can be very disunified.
We can say one thing and feel another.
Can a child do that?
Children remind us what it is to be human.
If I’ve had a busy day or have a lot on my mind, but I come home and Zia and Ruby are there and they catch me sitting on the couch, closer to their level, they may jump on me and drag me to the ground, and we begin to play;
they are teaching me something about tenderness, about love about presence;
I see their faces, their hands, I hear their laughs, and I am reminded about what it means to be human.
to be human--in many ways this is why Jesus came to earth as a human, to teach us how to be human.
You would think we would know,
But, in a world obsessed with mastery and control in which there is so much competition, uncaring, and destruction.
it seems we must learn..so Jesus points to children
And so as a child can teach us about unity and about fidelity and about love,
kingdom of God stuff, so it is with people with disabilities.
So says, today’s companion teacher, Jean Vanier, who founded the L’arche movement,
"intentional communities which center around people with mental disabilities."
the mission of L’Arche Communities is quite wonderful:
"- to make known the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities;
- to foster the development of communities that respond to members' changing needs, and
- to engage with local cultures while working toward a more human society."
After living with people with mental disabilities for 60 years, Vanier believes people with intellectual disabilities can restore balance to our world.
“Just as with children it's the same sort of beauty and purity in people with disabilities — it is extraordinary — as they remind us, 'Our world is not just a world of competition, the weakest and the strongest. Instead, Everybody has their place.'"
THrough living in community with people with mental disabilities,
“Vanier has learned the practical application of Christianity’s most paradoxical teachings; that there’s power in humility, strength in weakness,
and light in the darkness of human existence.”
One aspect of what it means to be human is through touch.
Jesus takes the children in his arms and laid his hands on them and blessed them.
Jean Vanier, who grow up in a military family and was military himself until his late 20s,
had to relearn in his L’arche communities the power of touch.
Touch is complicated in our society where things are readily sexualized,
where physical abuse is so prevalent.
But, when one visits the L’arche communities it is impossible not to be hugged or touched in a gentle and loving way; a ‘joyfully physical” encounter is how it is described.
Within the l’arche communities touch seems uncomplicated and so appropriate.
Vanier describes this touch as, “safe touch.
That's to say a touch which gives security and reveals.
The way one can put one's arm around the shoulder of someone. It's not to possess them.
It's not to hold on to them. It's to reveal.”
Vanier has gone through various stages of care for people in the community; like helping to change clothes and to bathe, or having to restrain when tempers get out of hand. But, as he is “getting older and weaker,” he is experiencing touch from people in the community in a new way...
Like, Janine, who was once violent and acted out because of her condition, now likes to sit peacefully beside him and put her hand on his head and say, "Poor old man."
The culture created in this community with disabilities is one which not driven by a culture of competition, but instead a culture of welcoming, where tenderness, where touch is important, and it's neither sexualized nor aggressive. It has become human. This is what people with disabilities are teaching us. It's something about what it means to be human and to relate and to celebrate life together. "
But we have to be open to relating in order to celebrating life with them, in order to see. Vanier tells the story of a time he was visited by a man who he describes as bit glum. He is sitting in his office talking to this glum man, when “there was a knock on the door. And before [Vanier] could say "Come in," Jean Claude walked in and Jean Claude technically would be Down syndrome. And, he says, “Jean Claude shook my hand and laughed, and shook the hand of the other fellow and laughed, and went out laughing.” And the man that had been in the office looked at Vanier and said, 'Isn't it sad, children like that?' Vanier reflected, “what was sad was that he was totally blind.
He didn't see that Jean Claude was happy.”
Vanier finds people are often hesitant to interact and engage the mentally disabled of his communities. because, he observes: We are a frightened people.
The big question is, why are we so frightened of people with disabilities?
When asked what he does by a woman, Vanier said,
“I [have] the privilege of living with people with disabilities.”
And she said, "Oh, but I could never work with [those] people."
He asked, "Why not?"
And she said, "Well, I am frightened of them."
Vanier says, When we stand before people who are deeply disfigured in their face, or in their body,
we're in front of a mystery of the human reality.
It's the fault of nobody.
It's a reality that is there.
The history of humanity is a history of people being born extremely fragile because sickness and death are part of our reality.
Vanier says to overcome his own fears one of his main goals in life has been to simply become a friend of Jesus and nothing else.
By being a friend of Jesus he finds he is able to accompany Jesus to the difficult places and difficult relationships, and to see Jesus in those places and people.
“If I change, and I seek to be more open to people and less frightened of relationship, if I begin to see what is beautiful within them, if I recognize also that there's brokenness because I'm also broken, and that's OK, then there's something that begins to happen.”
There is a story of St. Francis of Assisi, who lived in the Middle Ages in Europe where there were thousands of lepers. Assisi couldn’t stand lepers.
Of course Jesus ministered to lepers, but Francis couldn’t stand them, the smell, the disfigured bodies.
But one day, Francis says, “The Lord brought me to visit with them.
And when I left, there was a new gentleness in my body and in my spirit.
From there, I really left to serve the Lord.”
It was a conversion; a change in attitude.
It was a conversion; a change in attitude.
From fear and despisal of what appeared most disfigured, to discovery of the presence of God.
Slide: Vanier Quote
Vanier has learned in order to fully love, we have to accept what might be judged as useless or despicable or painful or broken in ourselves.
And then we can stand in relationship with one another, without judgment or fear, but because we love. We discover the deep joy of human relationship.
“That we love people not because they’re beautiful or clever, because they’re a person.”
What a privilege for this church to be recipients and hosts of the wonderful people who are part of Jackson Creative,
The annual Christmas party this past year here was great .
And each week folks from the Jackson Creative community come to this church; whenever I go out to greet them, they shake my hands, they smile, they all have University of Georgia gear on.
They always show me love and affection.
They help me to learn and relearn what Jesus came to teach us,
what it means to be human…
...humans who are invited carry ourselves with the wisdom of tenderness.
Let us Pray,
Gracious God, I thank you for the community of Jackson Creative. I ask that you bless all caregivers and all of those with mental disabilities who are part of our community.
I ask that we may grow and learn from relationship with each other as we all seek to be children ...
Children who get what it means to be of your kingdom.