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Thoughts from ‘Community & Growth’ by Jean Vanier


Welcome Giving Space

The welcome is one of the signs of true human and Christian maturity. It is not only to open one’s door and one’s home to someone. It is to give space to someone in one’s heart, space for that person to be and to grow; space where the person knows that he or she is accepted just as they are, with their wounds and their gifts. That implies the existence of a quiet and peaceful place in the heart where people can find a resting place. if the heart is not peaceful, it cannot welcome. (265)


One Heart, One Soul, One Spirit Community as Belonging

Each person with his or her history of being accepted or rejected, with his or her past history of inner pain and difficulties in relationships with parents, is different. But in each one there is a yearning for communion and belonging, but at the same time a fear of it. Love is what we most want, yet it is what we fear the most. Love makes us vulnerable and open, but then we can be hurt through rejection and separation. We may crave for love, but then be frightened of losing our liberty and creativity. We want to belong to a group, but we fear a certain death in the group because we may not be seen as unique. We want love, but fear the dependence and commitment it implies; we fear being used, manipulated, smothered and spoiled. We are all so ambivalent toward love, communion and belonging. (15)


Other Gifts in Community Each person has a gift to share

A community is like an orchestra: each instrument is beautiful when it plays alone, but when they all play together, each given its own weight in turn, the result is even more beautiful. A community is like a garden full of flowers, shrubs and trees. Each helps to give life to the other. Together, they bear witness to the beauty of God, creator and gardener-extraordinary. (251)


Mission

Universal Mission to Give Life Jesus’ whole message is one of lifegiving. He came to give life and to give it abundantly. He came to take away all the blockages that prevent the flow of life. The glory of God, wrote Irenaeus in the second century, is people fully alive, fully living. Jesus came to announce good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed and imprisoned, and sight to the blind. He came to liberate, to open up new doors and avenues; he came to take away guilt, to heal, make whole and to save. And he asks his disciples to continue this mission of life-giving, of fecundity and of liberation. That is the mission of every Christian community. (87)


Nourishment: Give us our daily bread

The Jewish people honour the Sabbath; it is a day of rest and it is the day of the Lord. We all need a sabbath day, a day in the week when we allow ourselves to be refreshed and reborn; a day when we spend more time in prayer or a day when we seek more solitude. The more people live constantly with others in community life, the more they need this day of solitude. ‘Come to me all you who labour and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest,’ says Jesus. (181)


Nourishment Sharing

I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes. There is a fundamental tendency to become discouraged in community. We either believe that others are better than we are, or that they don’t have to cope with the same problems. The discovery that we are all in the same boat and all have the same fears and weariness, can help us to continue. People are nourished by humility, because humility is truth; it is a sign of a presence of God. (185)

If we are in community only to ‘do things’, its daily life will not nourish us; we will be constantly thinking ahead, because we can always find something urgent to be done. If we live in a poor neighbourhood or with people in distress, we are constantly challenged. Daily life is only nourishing when we have discovered the wisdom of the present moment and the presence of God in small things. It is only nourishing when we have given up fighting reality and accept it, discovering the message and the gift of the moment. If we see housework or cooking simply as chores which have to be got through, we will get tired and irritable; we will not be able to see the beauty around us. But if we discover that we live with God and our brothers and sisters through what has to be done in the present moment, we become peaceful. We stop looking to the future; we take time to live. We are no longer in a hurry because we have discovered that there is gift and grace in the present of the book-keeping, the meetings, the chores and the welcome. (170)


One Heart, One Soul, One Spirit Community, a Place of Healing and Growth

Community is the place where the power of the ego is revealed and where it is called to die so that people become one body and give much life. Jesus said that ‘unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’ (John 12:24). (27)


Mission Inner Pain

The cry for love and communion and for recognition that rises from the hearts of people in need reveals the fountain of love in us and our capacity to give life. At the same time, it can reveal our hardness of heart and our fears. Their cry is so demanding, and we are frequently seduced by wealth, power and the values of our societies. We want to climb the ladder of human promotion; we want to be recognized for our efficiency, power and virtue. The cry of the poor is threatening to the rich person within us. We are sometimes prepared to give money and a little time, but we are frightened to give our hearts, to enter into a personal relationship of love and communion with them. For if we do so, we shall have to die to all our selfishness and to all the hardness of our heart. (98)


Nourishment: Personal Prayer

We have to have time alone with Our Father, with Jesus. Prayer is an attitude of trust in Our Father, seeking his will, seeking to be a presence of love for brothers and sisters. Each of us must know how to rest and unwind in silence and contemplation, heart to heart with God. Somtimes when I am alone, a light is born within me. It is like a wound of peace in which Jesus lives. And through this wound, I can approach others without barriers, without the fears and aggression I often feel, without everything that stands in the way of dialogue, without the waves of egoism or need to prove something... This solitude does not separate me from others; it helps me love them more tenderly, realistically and attentively.


Celebration

At the heart of community: celebration Forgiveness and celebration are at the heart of community. These are the two faces of love. Celebration is a communal experience of joy, a song of thanksgiving. We celebrate the fact of being together; we give thanks for the gifts we have been given. Celebration nourishes us, restores hope, and brings us the strength to live with the suffering and difficulties of everyday life. The poorer the people are, the more they love to celebrate. (313) Celebration is the specific act of a community as people rejoice and give thanks to the Father for he has bonded them together; he is looking after them and loves them. They are no longer individuals locked up in their own loneliness and independence. They are one body and each of them has their place in the body. Celebration is a cry of joy from all of them covenanted together, for they have been led through the passage of loneliness to love, of discouragement to hope. (314)


Growth

Growth in Individuals & Growth in the Community Some people run from the pain of feeling unlovable by ‘doing things’ which avoid involvement in deep relationships. But others on the contrary come to community and seek consolation from this pain by responding to whatever demands are made of them. Unconsciously there is a thought pattern: ‘If I satisfy your need, then you, or the community, or God, will be grateful, will appreciate my existence, will love me.’ Ultimately this can never bring true fulfillment and true growth. It is important that in communities where the needs are often limitless, we are attentive to this false response, so easily disguised by generosity and goodness. We must help each person to live more and more clearly and deeply from an inner confidence of being loved by God just as they are. (132)


Quotes from “Community & Growth” Jean Vanier, Revised Edition © 1989

Design by Robyn Leavens

Images from Barnabas Family Ministries, Gibsons, BC © 2012


Community & Growth by Jean Vanier