Communion

Jean Vanier wrote this next reading which are excerpts from a few different places.  As always they are beautiful and kind and you just want to live within that world they create.  And we can.

“To be in communion means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together.  Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and their capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside all the pain.  To love someone is not first of al to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: “You are beautiful.  You are important.  I trust you.  You can trust yourself.”  We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves.  To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.

To be in communion with someone also means to walk with them.  Those of you who have had the privilege of accompanying people in distress and inner pain know that it is not easy to walk with them, without having any answers to their problems or solutions for their pain. For many people in pain there is no solution: For a mother who has just lost her child or for a woman who has just been abandoned by her husband, there is no answer, there is just the pain. What they need is a friend willing to walk with them in all that pain. They do not need someone to tell them to try to forget the pain, because they won’t.  It is too deep.

But this communion is not fusion. Fusion leads to confusion.  In a relationship of communion, you are you and I am I; I have my identity and you have yours. I must be myself and you must be yourself.  We are called to grow together, each one becoming more fully himself or herself.  Communion, in fact, gives the freedom to grow.  Is is not possessiveness. It entails a deep listening to others, helping them to become more fully themselves…

When I was in the navy, I was taught to give orders to others.  That came quite naturally to me!  All my life I had been taught to climb the ladder, to seek promotion, to compete, to be the best, to win prizes.  This is what society teaches us.  In doing so we lose community and communion.  It was not natural or easy for me to live in communion with people, just to be with them. how much more difficult it was for me to be in communion with people who could hardly speak or had little to seek about.

Communion did not come easily to me. I had to change and to change quite radically.  When you have been taught from an early age to be first, to win, and then suddenly you sense that you are being called by Jesus to go down the ladder and to share your life with those who have little culture, who are poor and marginalized, a real struggle breaks out within oneself.  As I began living with people like Raphael and Philippe (two men with intellectual disabilities), I began to see all the harness of my heart.  It is painful to discover the hardness in one’s heart.  Raphael and the others were crying out simply for friendship and I did not quite know how to respond because of the other forces within me, pulling me to go up the ladder.  But over the years, the people I live with in L’Arche have been teaching and healing me.

They have been teaching me that behind the need for me to win, there are my own fears and anguish, the fear of being devalued or pushed aside, the fear of opening up my heart and of being vulnerable or of feeling helpless in front of others in pain; there is the pain and brokenness of my own heart.

I discovered something that I had never confronted before, that there were immense forces of darkness and hatred within my own heart.  At particular moment of fatigue or stress, I saw forces of hate rising up inside me, and the capacity to hurt someone who was weak and was provoking me!  That, I think, was what cause me the most pain:  to discover who I really am, and to realize that maybe I did not want to know who I really was!  I did not want to admit to all the garbage inside me.  And then I had to decide whether I would just continue to pretend that I was okay and throw myself into hyperactivity, projects where I could forget all the garbage and prove to others how good I was.  Elitism is the sickness of us all.  We all want to be on the winning team.  That is at the heart of apartheid and every form of racism.  The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them and to discover that the worst enemy is inside our own hearts, not outside.

Communion is very different from collaboration or cooperation.  When people collaborate, they work together toward the same end, in sports, in the navy, or in a commercial venture, for example.  They are brought together by a common goal, but there is not necessarily communion between them.  They are not personally vulnerable one to another.  When there is communion between people, they sometimes work together, but what matters to them is not that they succeed in achieving some target,  but simply that they are together, that they find their joy in one another and care for one another.  Raphael and Philippe really led me into this world of communion.

Looking back, I can see that when I was in the navy I was preoccupied with success and with trying to win the admiration of my superiors.  I loved the spirit and power that came with naval life.  Efficiency, not people, was my first concern. Similarly, when I left the navy, it was not primarily people who interested me. I wanted to devote myself to an ideal of peace and Christian life, and to the study of philosophy and theology.  Certainly, I wanted to follow Jesus, to know him and love him, but more out of idealism than because I wanted to live in communion. It took me some time to discover all my inner brokenness, which provoked difficulties in relationships and a fear of others.  I was happy to command, teach, obey and learn; but entering into communion with others, making myself vulnerable by forming relationships with them, was far more difficult.  I avoided people by throwing my energy into doing good things, praying and studying.  But maybe that was a necessary time of growth for me.  I needed the spiritual and intellectual formation which would gradually give me the inner strength to be able to enter into real relationships, to learn to listen to people and love them, and to become really myself.”

Excerpts from Jean Vanier’s “From Brokenness to Community,”  and “Our Journey Home: Rediscovering our Common Humanity Beyond our Differences.”    Compiled in “Called To Community,” edited by Charles E. Moore, 2016

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