“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.
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.