Signs of the Times: Seven paths of hope for a
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FIFTY years ago, Jean Vanier founded the L'Arche communities to
share his life with people with learning disabilities. In his
latest book, Vanier offers his insight into what living alongside
people who suffer has taught him about personal transformation and
the exercise of power.
Vanier identifies seven forces that threaten to dominate life
today, and he lays out a path of transformation for each of them.
For example, Vanier charts the way from humiliation to humility,
and from isolation to community.
Although Vanier devotes a chapter to each movement, he weaves
all seven throughout the book. Any confusion that this circling
engenders at the outset soon yields to a fuller perception of the
immense conversion of heart to which Vanier points: not a simple
formula for self-improvement, but a life-altering encounter with
Jesus through the vulnerable encounter with the other and then the
When Vanier describes life in community with people with
learning disabilities, he heeds the prophetic cry of people whom
society casts as weak. They are partners in his personal
conversion, and in the work to transform the world which follows
Vanier strikes an uncharacteristically flat note, however, when
he writes about the transformation of powerful social institutions
- in this case, the Roman Catholic Church. Because Vanier is so
eager for church leaders to encounter their own vulnerability, he
gives the impression that this is the end goal. But it is not
enough for the powerful to recognise the weak along the path to the
vulnerable self. People on the margins of society demand a
transformation of the social patterns of domination which created
their misery in the first place.
Nevertheless, this resonant, slim book will touch the heart of
anyone in the Church who seeks to live the hope of the gospel in
The Revd Ali Lutz is an Episcopalian priest from the diocese
of New York.