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A Cry is Heard: My path to peace, and We Need One Another, by Jean Vanier

14 December 2018

Pat Ashworth reads the challenging autumnal reflections of Vanier

JEAN VANIER acknowledges a sense of urgency in writing the memoir and spiritual autobiography A Cry is Heard. The founder of L’Arche is 89, and his strength is failing. “My desire in growing old”, he says, “is to live what I have always proclaimed: that God is at the heart of weakness. I would like, in my old age, with the possible loss of memory, mobility and even speech, to keep proclaiming his presence.”

He does it with the profound humility that has marked more than 50 years of living in community with severely disabled people. It’s not about “creating nice little institutions” for them, nor “doing good” to them: they are not, he insists, “poor little things we need to take care of. They are messengers from God who bring us closer to Jesus. They are a path to God.”

It is a belief reinforced in both books, the second a collection of talks given to retreatants in Kenya in 2008. There is infinite tenderness in simple descriptions of the silent communion with those, like Eric, who cannot see, hear, or speak; moments that yield “the profound feeling that we are there for each other”. The intertwining of lives is repeatedly emphasised. The trials and tribulations are not glossed over.

L’Arche now has 140 communities in 40 countries. In the early days, some saw Vanier as a friendly visionary, and others as a mystic corrupted by Christian views. The Roman Catholic Church held him at arm’s length. He lays bare the failings that he perceives in himself; he asks forgiveness; he writes with candour: “It is only when I discover my need to pretend that I am superior that I can begin to see what is broken in me.”

There is a strong sense of closure in these beautiful and profound reflections from an old man who has yielded himself to being led by the “weakest, the most foolish and the most oppressed of our societies”. But, in confessing to still travelling the road of healing and transformation, he throws out that same challenge and call to action to the rest of us.

A Cry is Heard: My path to peace
Jean Vanier
DLT £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 

We Need One Another
Jean Vanier
SPCK £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9

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