January 5, 2006

Jean Vanier

Category: Theology :: Permalink

On Sunday, as I was driving home from our afternoon service, I happened to switch the radio from CKUA, where it is usually set, to CBC, where I caught part of an interview with someone who turned out to be Jean Vanier.

I know little about Vanier other than that he founded L’Arche, a community where mentally handicapped and developmentally disabled people live and are loved and cared for.

In the course of the interview, Vanier made an interesting comment about vocation (though my summary here represents my own reflections on what he said). We often think of a “vocation” as a job, something that requires abilities and skills. At the least, it’s something that requires activity. But if we define “vocation” that way, Vanier said, then we are saying that only certain people have vocations.

But what about people who are severely disabled in some way? Vanier insists that such people have vocations, too. It isn’t always easy to see what their vocations are, but then it isn’t always easy to learn what anyone’s vocation is. People with great abilities may think their vocation is going to use those abilities, only to discover in retrospect that their calling from God turned out to be quite different.

The vocation of someone who is disabled may not be to preach or to run a business or whatever. It may be simply to love and be loved. And that is no insignificant vocation. In fact, it’s a vocation all of us have and one which many of us neglect, perhaps because we’re busy carrying out (what we think are) our other vocations.

Vanier’s comments were a salutary reminder to me as a pastor to be careful in how I speak about vocations and callings.

Later, he spoke about growing older and the challenges, but also the blessings, that it brings. Vanier himself is in his 70s. Recently, he said, he was sitting with a couple in their 80s, and he happened to be holding the wife’s hand as he spoke with them. She commented that she didn’t like growing old, to which Vanier responded by pointing out that if they were in their 30s, he couldn’t sit there in front of her husband, holding her hand. But age, he said, teaches you something about tenderness and fragility.

As we age, he said, our relationships change. Once we mothered; now we are mothered. And it’s okay for us to let go of some of our responsibilities. He related how the members of his community will tell him, “You’re looking tired. You should rest,” and how he’s free now to take a nap in the middle of the day and to allow himself to be “mothered” in that way by the very people he’s been caring for and, in some ways, “mothering” for years.

It was a pleasant surprise to discover this interview. I’m glad I switched stations when I did!

Posted by John Barach @ 11:16 am | Discuss (1)

One Response to “Jean Vanier”

  1. michael Says:

    Great post. I heard an interview of Vanier with Krista Tippett of onBeing. I was struck by some of the same things you mention here. I also discovered through that interview that there was a L’Arche home within a stone’s throw of my boyhood home. I never knew.

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