Jean Vanier

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Jean Vanier during the John Main Seminar 2016 at Trosly

With a heavy heart the world is facing the reality of Jean’s absence. At first it seems a lonelier place as we feel the desperate need for a spirit, as civilised and humane like his in our so often brutal world. But to have the heart touched even in this painful way is to be more awakened to our human capacity for love and wisdom. Across decades and continents, his life, words and actions and his way of looking at you, seeing you, achieved this awakening. So, sadness, yes, but also the beginning of resurrection in a sense of thankfulness. Because such a gift cannot die.

In a world dazzled and deluded by materialism and mechanicalism Jean’s genius was to show the unconquerable power of weakness, where the sacred really resides; not in pomp and celebrity but in the ground where we meet each other in truth and humility. Like Jesus his master, he spoke with authority, accurately seeing all the forces at work in people and situations but restraining judgement. To see everything without judging is the benchmark of holiness – as with God so with us.

The lodestar of Jean’s life was the simple acknowledgement, taught him by the most vulnerable members of any society, of the need to love and to be loved. To forget that, he realised, is to diminish our humanity. This is therefore our greatest vulnerability and our greatest strength in daily life and throughout our lifetime. We never lose this need – as with us so with God.

On Tuesday  morning at our daily meeting, I shared the sad news of Jean’s passing with our new community forming here at Bonnevaux. We took a time for silence before resuming. As I walked outside in the fresh morning air under a clear spring sky I sensed how Jean’s spirit, was now released from the mortality which had taught him about God. And I thought with a surge of confidence stronger than loneliness, that it would soar. It will grow in the space prepared but still not filled by the spirit of Jesus, his lifelong master and friend.

I was always struck by Jean’s intense emotional sensitivity and his lack of sentimentality; by the way he prioritised the human but recognised the need for structure. He advised and accompanied our community worldwide for thirty years and contributed not only his wisdom and care but a practical genius for organisation. When I asked him

if he thought that we should proceed with our new international centre he replied he was sure we should. I said ‘France?’ and he said ‘yes’. Then he added ‘make sure it’s beautiful’.

In 2016 Jean led his second John Main Seminar from Trosly. Here at Bonnevaux we are going to listen again to his talks online. I was moved then by his insight in merging the vision of l’Arche and of the World Community. From the wisdom of l’Arche he saw that meditation, too, is not about self-sufficiency but inter-dependence, not about being superhuman but fully human. I pray that our two communities, complementary ways of manifesting the human capacity for love and simple kindness, will continue to be guided and grow closer through his spirit now expanding around us.

 

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Laurence Freeman OSB

www.bonnevauxwccm.org

Not a Nostalgic reflection

John Main & Laurence Freeman..Forty years ago today John Main and I boarded a plane from London to Montreal carrying a couple of suitcases and an embarrassing number of overflowing plastic supermarket bags holding last-minute remembered clothes and commentaries on the Rule of St Benedict. On arrival and under heavy rain we were met by Bishop Len Crowley, a rare free spirit among bishops, who had invited us to establish a Benedictine priory of monks and lay people dedicated to the practice and teaching of meditation. In the ‘quiet revolution’ in Quebec he had seen a once all-powerful church diminish and recede from public acceptance and suffer a devastating loss of meaning. Prophetically – and like John Main – he could see this was not merely an era of change but a change of era.

The archdiocese had bought a small new house for our new adventure, rundown yet with a unique charm. It was in an inner suburb of the city but a historic old home. As the sale was not yet completed, Bishop Len drove us to a nearby parish church where the priest gave us homeless monks refuge for several weeks until we were ready to move in. We used the time driving around collecting furniture that people were offering us, getting to know people and already embarking on our reason for being there – teaching meditation.

Over the next 13 years Montreal became, for me personally, a home-city with lifelong friends who are, of course, always what makes home and life worth living. Fr John and I became Canadians. It taught me a lot, often painfully, about myself. It was also the place where John Main fulfilled his personal mission, taught and put up with me and trusted me to share in laying the foundations of the essential teaching and shaping the outlines of what Montreal was to be the embryo of – the World Community for Christian Meditation.

Very soon after we arrived we realised that the house on Vendome Avenue was too small – new members and guests had to live close by with friends of the community or in a couple of rented apartments. We had no money but we had a rich vision – and we had Fr John. Soon we were offered an extraordinary house and garden, high on the mountain, Mount Royal, but it was in an easy walking distance of downtown. It had not been lived in for ten years; but it had an old Irish butler-caretaker and a sleepy young security guard. As Fr John showed me round and explained the terms of the gift, I felt we had won the spiritual lottery. Fr John kindly tempered my enthusiasm by saying: ‘it’s what we need now to do what we have got to do now, but remember it’s not the last step.’

We moved in. Some people thought we shouldn’t be in such a big place. But it was the right place. The windows didn’t fit and let in the snow. The plumbing worked when it was in a good mood and that made them feel we were being kept humble. The generous donor would also arrive unexpectedly and say the family needed a piece of furniture or books from the library we had come to think of as ours. Fr John (more than me) loved and laughed at this exercise in detachment and poverty of spirit. People came to meditate and to stay. We fixed the windows, got hot water and refurbished the garden. The extended community grew, in Montreal, in Canada, in N America and globally. Fr John died there knowing the meaning of his life was alive.

BONNEAUSTRALIA
Ernie Christie, Debra Christie,Teresa Tratnyek, Paul Tratnyek, Cathy Day

The stories of life flow into and inform each other. Anytime now we will get the keys for Bonnevaux. It is a place of tangible and spiritual beauty. As I write this a group of education leaders, committed to our work with children, are walking the grounds and talking about a seminar we will hold there next year. I am skyping with them, seeing how their exciting ideas are forming through the courage of their vision. I am also feeling how the spirit of Bonnevaux spoke to them yesterday, as they sent several hours walking around.

So today is not about nostalgia. It about seeing patterns and resonances in life, personal and communal, luring ever deeper into the experience of meaning. Never settle for just one level of meaning, every day, every decade tells us.

Nostalgia is melancholic. That is why Fr John said that prayer is not a ‘nostalgia for God’. Vision and meaning are about discovering that there are and always will be new ways of being. We have to see them and then believe that they are there for us. The beauty and hope they glow with invite us to trust. This is what prayer is – an experience of being that shows us new ways of being.

Doesn’t our whole world need this? At Bonnevaux it will be truth at the heart of the life we live there. People will feel it when they arrive and see its physical beauty, when they are greeted and settle in their room, when they meditate and when they work and when they learn through teaching, dialogue and discussion how this new vision of reality can be truly lived when they return.

We have many needs to ask you to help us with for Bonnevaux. The most important is to share in this vision with us and to share it with others.

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www.bonnevauxwccm.org