My spiritual Hero – Jean Vanier

Over the summer, we had variety of Commoners share about their spiritual heros.  I chose to speak on Jean Vanier.  Here is what I shared …

Intro on Jean Vanier

  • While teaching philosophy in Canada, Jean met up with his friend who was a chaplain in a small institution for men with developmental disabilities
  • He said that at first, he had a hard time communicating with them, but then as he got to know them – he saw their ability to seek out relationship (which was a fresh change from his philosophy students who lacked relationship and only talked about ideas!)
  • He said that although people with disabilities may not be as skilled in intellectual areas, they are gifted in relationship.  They are people of the heart, people of trust
  • Then he started visiting pysciatric hospitals – He became aware of the plight of thousands of people institutionalized with developmental disabilities.
  • Jean Vanier met two men who had been abandoned by their family and he simply asked them if they would lie to live with him.  And so they did – He lived with his family and 2 individuals with disabilities.  He named his their home L’Arche – which is French for the ark – as in noah’s ark … And that started L’arche homes.
  • Since then, there are 130 l’arche homes in over 40 countries. The one here in Hamilton was founded in 1978

More on L’Arche homes

  • L’Arche follows the model that people with disabilities, and those who assist them, live together in homes and apartments, sharing life with one another and building community as responsible adults;
  • everyone is believed to have the capacity to grow and to mature into adulthood, and to make a contribution to society, regardless of the physical or intellectual limitations with  which they may be living;

and they incorporates the following principles

  • that whatever their strengths or their limitations, people are all bound together in a common humanity;
  • that everyone has the same dignity and the same rights, including the right to      life, to a home, to work, to friendship, and to a spiritual life;
  • that a truly just and compassionate society is one which welcomes its most      vulnerable citizens, and which provides them with opportunities to contribute meaningfully to the communities in which they live


  • Jean Vanier is a Christian man and will often quote scripture and Jesus’ teachings to be in community with people who are maginalized – |the lame, the blind, the poor,” as the Bible reads.  As you hear his writings, the parallels to Christianity are clear.  I believe that Jean just lives out his faith and tries to walk as Jesus did.
  • He lives a life of action and says that we cannot grow spiritually if we ignore our humanness

What his experiences taught him

  • It is his experience of a shared life with people with an intellectual disability that allowed him to develop his vision of what it means to become human
  • Those we lock away and think worthless, he says, have the power to teach and even to heal us. We are all “broken” in some way, he believes.
  • “When you start living with people with disabilities”, he says, “you begin to discover a whole lot of things about yourself.” He learned that to “be human is to be bonded together, each with our own weaknesses and strengths, because we need each other

I shared part of this video so people could get a sense of who Jean Vanier his.  I love to listen to him speak – he is so genuine and kind.

Becoming Human

  • This is one of Jean’s books and it is such a foundational book to me.  everything he says makes so much sense.  When I read it, its common sense –but to verbalize these thoughts on my own, I’d be lost!
  • It resonates so clearly with our community and our ideas of inclusion, everyone having a voice, being equal and different people living together in a community of belonging.
  • The book centres around the idea that our society shuns weakness and glorifies strength.  By embracing weakness, however, we learn new ways of living and discover greater compassion, trust and understanding.  The spirit of inclusion has extraordinary implications of the way we live our lives and build our community


  • To be human is about the Liberation of the human heart from the tentacles of chaos and loneliness and from those fears that provoke us to exclude and reject each other
  • It’s a liberation to discover our COMMON HUMANITY
  • And the discovery of our common humanity liberates us from self centered compulsions and inner hurts – a discovery that leads to fulfillment in forgiveness – this is the process of becoming human
  • Jean states that if e live in a community – we have two choices:
    • If we are concerned with only our own rights – then that society must become more and more closed in on itself. Then you will feel no responsibility for others
    • As we open up to others and allow ourselves to be concerned with their condition, then the society in which we live will also change and become more open
    • Deep inner healing comes when people feel loved – a sense of BELONGING.  This healing flows from relationships


  • The basic human need is for at least one person who believes and trusts in us.  But that is not enough, it doesn’t stop there.  Each of us needs to belong, not just to one person but to a family, friends, a group and a culture.
  • Belonging is important for our growth to independence; even further, it is important for our growth to inner freedom and maturity. (This is a loaded statement but gives you an idea of where he goes with some thoughts)
  • It is only through belonging that we can break out of the shell of individualism and self centredness that both protects and isolates us


  • Our lives are a mystery of growth from weakness to weakness – from the weakness of a little baby to the weakness of the aged.
  • Throughout our lives, we are prone to fatigue, sickenss and accidents.  Weakness is at the heart of each one of us.
  • Weakness becomes a places of chaos and confusion if in our weakness we are not wanted
  • It becomes a place of peace and joy if we are accepted, listened to, appreciated and loved
  • Some people are infuriated by weakness – it can awaken hardness and anger.  However, weakness can also open up our hearts to compassion – the places where we are concerned for the growth and well being of the weak

 The Risk of Belonging

  • Because creating a group of weakness and belonging is so difficult, you run the risk of people getting hurt
    • You have to be careful in how structures are set up
    • It is also difficult cause our general society and media favours the growth of the individual – how much power, money and success can you get.

 Healthy Belonging

  • Vanier talks about the 4 signs of healthy belonging

1. In healthy belonging we have to have respect for one another.  This type of cooperation is not easy and takes time to grow to maturity.  So it is in that belonging that we grow to maturity and discover what I means to be human and to act in a human way
2. The second sign of healthy belonging is the way a group humbly lives its mission of service to other.  It does not use or manipulate others for its own benefit.  It does not impose vision on others but instead prefers to listen to what they are saying and living.  Beginning to see others’ gifts, we move out from behind the walls of certitude that have closed us up.  Although we may do this within our community – do we do it outside as well? As in lets not see what might be separating us from different churches but look at what unites us.  Begin to see each others’ gifts and to appreciate them and to realize that the important thing is for each one of us is to grow in love and give of ourselves
4. When a group seeks to evolve and to recognize the errors of the past – to recognize its own flaws and seek the help of experienced people from outside the group  in order to be more true and loving, more respectful of difference, more listening and open

I also shared this video!

Thanks for reading and listening!