Jean Vanier may be the greatest man you never heard of.
His kind don’t get heard near enough in this callous world.
So check him out in this in-depth, 2013 interview with Kristin Tippett.
Or at least read and mull on these excerpts from the interview–and mind you, the excerpts are from the transcript of an unedited, free-wheeling radio interview . . .
On hiding our pain and weakness:
“We don’t know what to do with our own pain, so what to do with the pain of others? We don’t know what to do with our own weakness except hide it or pretend it doesn’t exist. So how can we welcome fully the weakness of another if we haven’t welcomed our own weakness? There are very strong words of Martin Luther King. His question was always, how is it that one group — the white group — can despise another group, which is the black group? And will it always be like this? Will we always be having an elite condemning or pushing down others that they consider not worthy? And he says something, which is quite, what I find extremely beautiful and strong, is that we will continue to despise people until we have recognized, loved, and accepted what is despicable in ourselves. So that, then we go down, what is it that is despicable in ourselves? And there are some elements despicable in ourselves, which we don’t want to look at, but which are part of our natures, that we are mortal.”
On our fear of people with disabilities:
We are a frightened people. And, of course, the big question is, why are we so frightened of people with disabilities? Like a woman who said to me just recently, asked me where I — what I was doing. And I said that I had the privilege of living with people with disabilities. And she said, ‘Oh, but I could never work with people.’ And I said, ‘Why not?’ And she said, ‘Well, I am frightened of them.’ It touches very — and I believe we’re in front of a mystery of the human reality and people who are very deeply disfigured in their face, in their body. And so — and it’s the fault of nobody. It’s a reality that is there. And maybe we can work things out and discover what gene it is and so on. But the history of humanity is a history of people being born extremely fragile because sickness and death is part of our — of our reality.
On children, power and our educational system:
The balance of our world frequently is seen as a question of power. That if I have more power and more knowledge, more capacity, then I can do more. But does this tension between the doing and the being — and when you have power, we can very quickly push people down. I’m the one that knows and you don’t know, and I’m strong and I’m powerful, I have the knowledge. And this is the history of humanity.
And that is all of what I’d call the whole educational system, is that we must educate people to become capable and to take their place in society. That has value, obviously. But it’s not quite the same thing as to educate people to relate, to listen, to help people to become themselves. So the equilibrium that people with disabilities could bring is precisely this equilibrium of the heart.
Children. You see, maybe a father is a very strong man and businessman, and when he comes home, if he gets down on his hands and knees and plays with the children, it’s the child that is teaching the father something about tenderness, about love, about the father looking at the needs of the child, the face of the child, the hands of the child, relating to the child. And the children, the incredible thing about children is they’re unified in their body and in — whereas we, we can be very disunified. We can say one thing and feel another.
And so as a child can teach us about unity and about fidelity and about love, so it is people with disabilities. It’s the same sort of beauty and purity in some of these people — it is extraordinary — and say, ‘Our world is not just a world of competition, the weakest and the strongest. Everybody have their place.’
On Jesus, John the Baptist, God and vulnerability:
My experience today is much more the discovery how vulnerable God is. You see, God is so respectful of our freedom. And if as the Epistle of John says that God is love, anyone who has loved in their life knows they’ve become vulnerable. Where are you and the other person and do you love me back? So if God is love, it means that God is terribly vulnerable. And God doesn’t want to enter into a relationship where he’s obliging or she is obliging us to do something.
The beautiful text in the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation: “I stand at the door and I knock. If somebody hears me and opens the door, then I will enter.” What touches me there is God knocking at the door, not kicking the door down, but waiting. Do you, will you open? Do you hear me? Because we’re in a world where there’s so much going on in our heads and our hearts and anxiety and projects that we don’t hear God knocking at the door of our hearts. So I’d say that what touches me the deepest, maybe because I’m becoming myself more vulnerable, is the discovery of the vulnerability of God, who doesn’t oblige.
The other element, which is probably, again, linked to that, is that the only thing that’s, what I see important for myself is just to become a friend of Jesus and nothing else. And the whole I think of the mystery of Christianity is just living with Jesus the way Jesus lived in Nazareth with his, with Mary, his mother, and with Joseph. A relationship. John the Baptist was strong, he was powerful. He was prophetic.
[Jesus] ate with people who are caught up in prostitution, with tax collectors, with lepers and all that. I mean, there’s something so simple about Jesus that he is disarming. We don’t quite know what to do with it. Because frequently, we would want a powerful Jesus who will put everything straight, who will cure everybody, who will do everything that we tell him to do. And it’s not like that.
On his close relationship with Mother Theresa:
She had a lot of anguish, you see? And to bring anguish, which she had, and then to think that it doubted her faith, she never doubted her faith, but in her prayer that she lived anguish. This is what everybody lives. I mean it’s — this is human reality. And I think when Mother Teresa was writing and telling these — and I still feel upset because she said that should be destroyed. And we didn’t take seriously what she had said. But she was obviously a woman of great anguish.
And so when you’re a great anguished, your prayer will be anguished. I mean don’t be surprised and don’t make a big thing out of it. I mean this is the reality of everyone. And she’s telling us now stop thinking about this anguish. Just get on and start loving people. We must listen to what she said, which was we will be healed by the poor. So let’s get down to it.