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Communion, by Jean Vanier

Communion, by Jean Vanier

Living with men and women with mental disabilities has helped me to discover what it means to live in communion with someone. 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 of all the pain.

To love someone is not first of all 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.

When a child has experienced rejection, you can say all sorts of nice things to the child, but that will not take away the pain. It will take a long time for that pain to diminish and it will probably never completely disappear.

Some of the men and women I have been living with for a number of years now are still in quite deep anguish. They are more peaceful than they were, but there are still moments when anguish surges up in them. The essential at such moments is to walk with them, accepting them just as they are, to allow them to be themselves. It is important for them to know that they can be themselves, that even though there are wounds, and pain in them, they are loved. It is a liberating experience for them to realize they do not have to conform to any preconceived idea about how they should be.

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. It is not possessiveness. It entails a deep listening to others, helping them to become more fully themselves.

Jean Vanier lives with men and women of varying physical and mental abilities in L'Arche, a community in Trosly-Breuil, France. This writing is from his book called From Brokenness to Community.

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