In our continuing series Helen Spilsbury offers us this insight into Jean Vanier’s influence in her life:
Luke 24:32 “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
This is the closest definition I can find to what I experience in my heart when reading what Jean Vanier has to say and in reading in what others have to say about him. I am very grateful to Henry Nouwen who first introduced me to Jean Vanier (and to my Spiritual Director who introduced me to Henry Nouwen). All three of these men have had a profound impact on my spiritual journey….but let me get back to Jean Vanier.
Actually, I really do not know where to start, so l let me just choose a few highlights that come to mind this afternoon.
Two of his many books that have really encouraged and challenged me are Befriending the Stranger and Becoming Human. In these life giving words, he has a gentle and joyful way of drawing me into the arms of Jesus. He really loved Jesus and always wanted to live a simple and joyful life of listening and doing what he thought Jesus would have him do …. without any fanfare or gimmicks. In Becoming Human he writes: “To be free is to die to the ‘false me’ of our social constructs and fears and to welcome in our real self this unique ‘I’ that is indispensable to others and the world.” This sentence has been heart transforming as I lean into the notion that my unique ‘I’ is indispensable to others. My SoulStream journey is this learning of living with my SoulStream community in moving from my head to my heart.
This summer I was able to watch a movie that has been made on Jean Vanier and the L’Arche Movement: A Summer in the Forest. It is not action packed or fast moving. Rather it is a gentle testimony to what L’Arche is all about – doing what Jesus asked us to do – care for the poor. Each time I watched it, I was touched by the joy and fun that seemed to erupt wherever Jean Vanier was. He had a personality that was inviting and caring and humble enough to reach out to the poorest of us even though his origins were in the lofty government halls of Canada, the Navy and Universities.
And then the end of his life on earth was marked for me by being able to watch live, his 2-hour funeral service. It was beautiful in its simplicity. The man who met with Popes, Queens and Presidents had a humble funeral in the town where he started the first L’Arche home. I could not stop watching as both the people he lived with and those who lived with him gave testimony to his life. There was such an overwhelming sense of peace and joy and humility. He once said that although he is said to be the Founder of the L’Arche Communities……really all he was, was the first to arrive to help the people in Trosly-Breuil.
This past Christmas season I have just finished a biography on his life called Jean Vanier – Portrait of a Free Man by Anne-Sophie Constant. It was so helpful for me to have some of the missing pieces filled in by his biographer. He does not often speak of the difficult things he endured in his personal life, but this book really brought into focus for me that the freedom that Jean Vanier experienced was also gleaned for him in the Dark Nights of the Soul that he was led into. It is so encouraging for me as I look forward to this year of 2020 to know that I don’t walk alone. Men like Jean Vanier walk with me and encourage me to let go of fear and embrace freedom.
Thank you Helen!
Wm. Paul Young event in Calgary April 18, Lies we Believe About God
Being With Our Sorrow – Saturday March 28, 2020, St Lawrence Anglican, Calgary
Facilitators: Helen Barry and Pearl Nieuwenhuis
Brad Jersak opens us to A More Christlike Way