Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas with Jean Vanier

My Sunday morning routine of asanas accompanied by classical music changed when our local Public Broadcasting radio station changed its schedule.

Now, rather than music, I am more likely to be listening to Christa Tippett’s program, “Speaking of Faith.” That’s OK. After all, it is Sunday.

The Sunday before Christmas brought up what I thought was a “repeat.” I’d already heard one show on Jean Vanier and the L’Arche community. So, there was a bit of internal grumbling as I stretched into the next asana.

But if this was a repetition, I hadn’t really listened before.
Or more likely, I wasn’t ready to hear before.
But, I stopped my yoga mid-posture when I heard these word:

You see, the big thing for me is to love reality and not live in the imagination, not live in what could have been or what should have been or what can be, and somewhere, to love reality and then discover that God is present.
Jean Vanier

I would like to do this too.

And I would like to share some snippets of transcript (edited a bit for a smoother read) as my belated Christmas message.

MS. TIPPETT: … in 1963, Jean Vanier was a professor of philosophy at St. Michael's College in Toronto. At Christmas time that year, he went to visit a friend in France who was working as a chaplain for men with mental handicaps. Vanier found himself drawn to these human beings shut away from society. He was especially moved by a vast asylum south of Paris in which all day, 80 adult men did nothing but walk around in circles and take a two-hour compulsory nap. He bought a small house nearby and invited two men from that asylum to share life with him…
MR. VANIER: …I come back to the reality of pleasure and to the reality of what is my deepest desire and what is your deepest desire.
And … the deepest desire for us all is to be appreciated, to be loved, to be seen as somebody of value.
But not just seen —
Aristotle makes a difference between being admired and being loved. When you admire people, you put them on pedestals. When you love people, you want to be together.
So really, the first meeting I had with people with disabilities, what touched me was their cry for relationship.
Some of them had been in a psychiatric hospital.
All of them had lived pain and the pain of rejection.
One of the words of Jesus to Peter — and you find this at the end of the gospel of Saint John — "Do you love me?"

MS. TIPPETT: All kinds of pain and weakness are difficult for us as human beings. Why is that so excruciating? Why do we do such a bad job with it?
MR. VANIER: … First of all, we don't know what to do with our own pain, so what to do with the pain of others?
We don't know what to do with our own weakness except hide it or pretend it doesn't exist.
So how can we welcome fully the weakness of another if we haven't welcomed our own weakness?
There are very strong words of Martin Luther King. His question was always, how is it that one group — the white group — can despise another group, which is the black group? And will it always be like this? Will we always be having an elite condemning or pushing down others that they consider not worthy?
And he says something, which is quite, what I find extremely beautiful and strong…
we will continue to despise people until we have recognized, loved, and accepted what is despicable in ourselves.
So then we go down, what is it that is despicable in ourselves?
And there are some elements despicable in ourselves, which we don't want to look at,
but which are part of our natures, that we are mortal… [and too]

We are very fragile in front of the future.
Accidents and sicknesses is the reality.
We are born in extreme weakness and our life will end in extreme weakness.
So this, people don't want to hold on to that.
They want to prove something. They want security. They want to have big bank accounts and all that sort of stuff.
So then also, a whole lots of fear is within us.

MS. TIPPETT: I know you've written that, from the point of view of faith, those who are marginalized and considered failures can restore balance to our world. …
MR. VANIER: The balance of our world frequently is seen as a question of power.
That if I have more power and more knowledge, more capacity, then I can do more.
…and when you have power, we can very quickly push people down.
I'm the one that knows and you don't know,
and I'm strong and I'm powerful, I have the knowledge.
And this is the history of humanity.

"As we share our lives with the powerless, we are obliged to leave behind our theories about the world, our dreams and our beautiful thoughts about God, to become grounded in a reality that can be quite harsh." Jean Vanier

MS. TIPPETT: …So I asked Jean Vanier how does he think about the nature of God and of Jesus as he approaches his 80s.
MR. VANIER: My experience today is much more the discovery of how vulnerable God is.
You see, God is so respectful of our freedom.
And if, as the Epistle of John says, God is love, anyone who has loved in their life knows they've become vulnerable.
Where are you and the other person and do you love me back?
So if God is love, it means that God is terribly vulnerable.
And [too] God doesn't want to enter into a relationship where He's obliging or She is obliging us to do something.
The beautiful text in the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelations: "I stand at the door and I knock. If somebody hears me and opens the door, then I will enter."
What touches me there is God knocking at the door, not kicking the door down, but waiting.
Do you, will you open?
Do you hear me?
Because we're in a world where there's so much going on in our heads and our hearts and anxiety and projects that we don't hear God knocking at the door of our hearts.
So I'd say that what touches me the deepest, maybe because I'm becoming myself more vulnerable, is the discovery of the vulnerability of God, who doesn't oblige.

MS. TIPPETT: And, of course, one implication of the vulnerable God, of honor in human freedom is precisely this dark side that we've been talking about,
that human beings cause each other pain, dominate, and destroy.
And so, I'm kind of coming back at you with the question of still, if God is God, is that enough to honor our freedom?
MR. VANIER: …there are so many things we don't know.
And, I just have to honor what I don't know.
— there are so many things I cannot explain, because explanation is something about headiness.
You won't have it in the head.
But the whole question is not to understand,
it's to be attracted to the place of pain in order to give support to those who are suffering. … if we try to know too much, it might cut us away from being present.

It's a very moving thing with St. Francis of Assisi.
St. Francis said he couldn't stand lepers.
And one can understand a disfigured leper with no nose or no ear or parts of gaping, you know?
And in the Middle Ages …20,000 leprosiums, filled with these people that smelt bad and he said, "I hated it. I couldn't stand it."
And then he said that one day, the Lord brought me into the lepers.
“And when I left, there was a new gentleness in my body and in my spirit.”

This was, what struck me, when he said, “a new gentleness in my body and in my spirit.” And it says, “From there, I really left to serve to Lord.” …
from the fear and despisal of what appeared the most dirty…
he discovered there was a presence of God.

Full program information on “The Wisdom of Tenderness” can be found here.

And PS – I had a hard time choosing a picture for this entry.
I wanted to post something uplifting, joyful, something that went with the Season.
I didn’t want a leper.

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