Healing Happens in a Community of Love

In The Spirituality of Imperfection, Ernie Kurtz and I write about  and "mutuality": the awareness that life's most precious realities -- love, wisdom, sobriety -- are attained only in the giving of them and are given only in the openness to receive them.  Philosopher, theologian, humanitarian Jean Vanier personifies this awareness.  This passage from The Spirituality of Imperfection reveals something of the vast greatness of this man and his impact on our world:

Vanier discovered mutuality -- giving by getting, getting by giving -- in his work with the disabled.  In 1964 at the small French village of Trosly-Breuil, "le grand girafe," as the tall, rumpled Canadian is affectionately referred to by his friends, founded L'Arche as a homelike setting in which non-disabled people would live with the disabled in the practical, daily understanding that each member of both groups had something to offer all the others.  Vanier and his compatriots at L'Arche soon discovered two intertwined realities.  First, the handicapped person needs not only to receive love but also to give love in return.  And second, the weak and the broken do have much to give -- they can heal us because they tap the well of our own brokenness.

In telling the story of one of his friends, the gravely crippled Armando, Vanier suggests how mutuality heals:

Because he is so broken, in some way we can allow him to reveal to us our brokenness without getting angry. . . .  He is so broken that I am allowed to look at my own brokenness without being ashamed.

As he spent more and more time with the handicapped, with the varieties of broken individuals so easily discarded like a kind of jetsam in the modern age of technological perfection, Vanier became convinced that "healing happens only in a community of love."  But, he quickly goes on to insist, the "community of love" in which that healing occurs is both earthly and earthy.  This is not a place of angels and refined spirits, filled with sweetness and light and heavenly bliss, but a very painful place, a place of grieving, a place of loss, a place of death.  "Community is the realization that evil is inside," Vanier says. "Not only inside my community, but inside me."

I recently found another bit of wisdom from Jean Vanier about the power of stories and storytelling.  

As we start to really get to know others, as we begin to listen to each other’s stories, things begin to change. We begin the movement from exclusion to inclusion, from fear to trust, from closedness to openness, from judgment and prejudice to forgiveness and understanding. It is a movement of the heart.

This man -- his work with the disabled, his stories, his deep wisdom born of experience -- has moved my heart.