Remembering the ‘We’ (December 21, 2018)
Someone recently sent me a beautiful video of Jean Vanier reflecting about what is important in making life more human. Now 90 years old, Vanier has a lifetime’s worth of wisdom as he reflects about the value of human life.
If you don’t know Jean Vanier, he’s the son of former Governor General Georges Vanier, a Rhodes scholar, and an accomplished philosopher. Vanier is best known for founding “L’Arche” in 1964. As he became aware of the plight of thousands of people who were institutionalized because of developmental disabilities, he decided that he would invite two men to leave their institution and live with him. That became the foundation of L’Arche, a community in which people with disabilities lived with those who cared for them.
Since then, L’Arche communities have been established in countries around the world. A governing philosophy of the communities is Vanier’s belief that people with disabilities are teachers, rather than burdens bestowed upon families.
In this 3½ –minute long video, Vanier reflects on what makes life meaningful:
“We’re in a culture where power and beauty and capacity have value, and so those who are less capable or apparently have less gifts should be got rid of. This is part of a culture of force, of individual success, with each one going up the ladder as high as they can go and promotion and money and all this sort of stuff. It’s got all mucked up, because it’s a culture which says that I have to be more powerful than my neighbour, and being more powerful than my neighbour, I don’t learn to share with them, I learn to be above them.
“The secular world is a world where we’re in danger of forgetting the “we”, that we’re part of a family. And so the question will always be how to lose power.
“Spirituality is about getting close to people who have been rejected. It’s breaking down the wall which separates the rich and the poor.
“But there’s something else. It’s a meeting. And a meeting implies that I’m not better than you, and you’re not better than me. We’re all just children of God.
“It’s that movement of going down, of not believing in power and in promotion. When somebody meets me in the depth of my being, where I don’t have to pretend that I’m better than others, there’s a liberation. A liberation to be myself.
“There’s only one thing that really matters. Relationship. Do you love me? Do you love me as I am? And so that is a place of revelation. Somewhere we discover that we can meet without any ladders. I receive your gift, you receive my gift.
“There’s something that happens, a moment of communion, a moment of joy. And that’s where fundamentally joy is. When we meet people, not above them, not below them but as children of God, together.”
There is deep wisdom in this reflection. When we remember the “we”, we recognize again that we are bound together in our common humanity. All around us, we are encouraged to forget this as we are urged to focus on the “me”.
It reminds me of Marcus Borg’s way of describing the world we live in as marked by the 3 A’s: Appearance, Achievement, Affluence. Everything in our society seduces us into thinking that we have to look good, that we have to produce and consume, and that we have to stockpile wealth for ourselves.
But notice that each of those 3 A’s focus on “me”. How good do I look? How much have I achieved? How much can I gain and save and hold and hoard?
Now I’m not saying that any of those 3 A’s are completely unimportant. Of course not. But neither do they make life worth living. They are peripheral things. They are less important matters.
As Vanier says, the value of life is found in relationship. Life is about how we connect with each other. Life is made rich and whole as we embrace one another in love and grace. Life is made healthy as we care for one another.
“Do you love me? Do you love me as I am?” Can you love me if I am different than you? If I am liberal while you are conservative? If I am part of the LBGTQ community? If I am down–and–out? If I am an indigenous person? If I have faith? If I do not have faith? “Do you love me? Do you love me as I am?”
If you can love me … well then that’s the best gift of all you can give me or anyone else this Christmas and throughout the year.
Rev. Yme Woensdregt