“The balance of our world frequently is seen as a question of power. If I have more power and more knowledge, more capacity, then I can do more. And when we 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. This is the history of humanity. And it is in the whole educational system, 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. The equilibrium that people with disabilities bring is precisely this equilibrium of the heart.”
- Jean Vanier, in conversation with Krista Tippet, (On Being)
“We’re all waiting to be met.”
- James Finley
The passing of Jean Vanier this week, made me relive some moments where I was truly struck at the heart by love. I’m talking, the big love that pulls at us and drops hints for how our own little story might connect with the Big Story.
I’ve been thinking about how disarming his teaching was. The strikingly gentle delivery, as well as the content, just got right down to the business of loving. I wonder if the combination of transforming out of his naval background and the friendship he experienced with his friends Raphael Simi and Phillipe Seux was the alchemy for such precision into the heart of God.
Reading Jean Vanier’s Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John, and Befriending the Stranger, were key in the early development of realizing that although my religion preached love, it was often not incredibly loving.
I remember weeping at the image Vanier described, of Jesus keeping himself lower than the woman at the well. And I remember beginning to understand the difference between “alms giving” and relationship. The difference between power over… and mutual connection.
It was about the same time (early 2000’s), where I began to study the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s most widely known book, I Thou.
Jean Vanier and Martin Buber’s writing, (and in particular, Jean Vanier’s very life), commenced my first conscious inklings as an adult, of the intrinsic subjectivity of the created world, and the love that incarnates it.
Lately, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by how mean and patronizing and dystopian the social media world can be. It can be such a beautiful, connecting tool, but I often wonder if the very longing to be met, and to feel meaningful, that Jean Vanier intuited all of us long for, is not being experienced online. But instead, so many are being met with provocation, neurotic insistence, dramatic offended-ness, dramatic defended-ness, hopelessness, and sometimes straight up cruelty.
So it’s a simple question this week. How can we live one moment at a time in the coming few days, practicing vigilance, for where we might be met, and where we might meet others?
Sometimes, it is real, and true, that another person, an abusive person, isn’t safe for you to "meet". And that’s ok. But you can still sense that part in yourself, that wants to be met, and trust that that is really, how everyone feels, somewhere in there.
There isn’t one time when my children have hidden, that they didn’t want me to seek, that they didn’t want me to find. There isn't one time they didn't want my full attention, when they told me a story. It is tender and vulnerable, and what Jean Vanier did for us, is changed how we understood those words. If understood as “weak” or “less”, those words are demeaning. If understood in the way Jean Vanier understood them, they mean: our yearning for wholeness shining through.
We’re all like that deep down. We’re all waiting to be met.
There was a point in the last 3 weeks, where I really began to realize that social media has so much power for good, but also has the potential to be simply the ultimate way for us to work out our own neurosis. So, seeing this in myself, (that I often share things in a reactive state), I committed to not sharing a post on instagram or facebook (my main social media spaces), without first sitting in silence, in the hope that the energy of that sharing will not contribute to a spiral of violence or adolescent drama, but help raise awareness, to hold, and to give back to the great Mystery, the suffering of the world.
In the midst of this Eastertide vigil, has been the reality of Rachel Held Evans' medically induced coma and wondering as so many of us were, what the outcome of her medical situation would be. Sadly, very, very sadly, she died Saturday, May 4th, 2019, at the age of 37, leaving behind her young family.
I tucked my children in tonight, just gutted.
As the rest of us grieve the loss of this brilliant, Christian prophet, may those closest to her be protected from any imposed ownership. And... in particular, protected from any judgemental or "against" energy.
I shared my social media post out of silence today, about Rachel. A wave of grief and gratitude for her life is flooding my newsfeed, and what I have noticed most, is how many people named her as the author who used her privileged position to step aside and offer others a platform.
For me, what I've really appreciated about her, is how she found the words to guide so many sincerely hurting people, through the painful, unmooring process of spiritual metamorphosis. So much shame can accompany this process. It can be terrifying to admit we have been wounded by the religious culture of our upbringing.
It is one thing to preach. It is another thing to live what you preach. There was something in her giftedness for seeing the gem at the heart of her tradition, that challenged her to live those values.
So, this Sunday Song is to honour one of the great theologians of the ancient/renewing Christianity, Rachel Held Evans. May many of her words be on our lips in the years to come.
One phrase of hers that I will forever carry with me, is: "Jesus is how God feels toward us."
The Christianity she discovered through her own seeker's journey, is the kind that will live in the hearts of people, whether there is one church building left standing. It is the kind that was whispered in the mines of Roman occupied Britain in 1st century AD: that the Christ mystery is the great equalizer of slaves and Caesars. Raising what has been made low, and making low what has been elevated. The Christianity that in its marrow, knows "inclusive" and "affirming" doesn't even go far enough... because many in the LGBTQ2 community have a deeply moving, precious teaching voice that needs to be heard in the church. The Christianity that recognizes its own horrific stain(s) on history, and particularly acknowledges that people of color have very integral, important things to say, yes, to the white community, and that it is necessary for those voices to be heard. The Christianity that sees how the innate fire in the belly for teaching and preaching can be born in any kind of person... women included... and that Sophia may be the very fire of that fire.
I have chanted Let This Mind Be in You in front of many audiences. Many have received it very warmly. But I've been amazed at how many people have told me they think it is irreverent.
The irony is that the chant merely quotes Philippians 2:5, which is the beginning of one of the great Christological hymns, harkening to the self-emptying nature of the incarnate Christ.
Well done, good and faithful servant. Rachel Held Evans, in many, very tangible ways, you lived this verse:
Let this mind be in you
Which was also in Christ Jesus
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on an aspiring permaculture farm on the Canadian prairies.