The Wounds we Share – Remembering #JeanVanier

My latest column in the Christian Courier.


You couldn’t help but notice Jean Vanier when he entered a room. This was simply on account of his size – he was a big man, standing six feet, six inches tall. So just by virtue of his physical presence, he would likely draw your gaze. But if Jean Vanier drew sustained attention, and more than a passing glance, it was on account of the loving attention he gave to others. Many were drawn to him because his large hands and his wide embrace so evidently embodied a deep and sincere love for others.

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of listening in as some who knew Jean Vanier (1928-2019) shared stories of encounter with him. This took place at the 10th annual Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, held this year at Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Almost all of the stories that were shared painted a picture of someone who drew you in by giving his full attention. He was decidedly present in the moment, listening and sharing in a way that demanded as much of you as he gave of himself in the encounter.

One participant in the conversation shared about a time Vanier visited the Daybreak (L’Arche) community in Toronto. It was a mob scene as Vanier entered the home and was surrounded by members of the community. Yet this wasn’t adulation; not the adoration of a celebrity. Rather, as the speaker put it: “They drew near to him because he was a shepherd and these were the sheep who knew his voice; these women and men with intellectual disabilities knew he was responsible for this place (Daybreak) that had given them life.” By his loving presence, Jean Vanier shared and embodied the loving presence of the Good Shepherd. It is perhaps no surprise that so many were drawn to his life and voice. Continue reading

the daily grind: caring

This past week I was in Ontario for a couple of days to attend the funeral of an uncle of mine. His name was Andy, and he was 59 years old.  After a two year battle with cancer, he died at home a week and a half ago surrounded by his family.

I wasn’t terribly close to my uncle Andy. He was almost a generation younger than my father. Also, my family never lived in very close proximity to my uncle and his family – growing up we would usually see them once or twice a year. It had probably been 7 years since I had seen my uncle.

 Over the past two years, however, I received regular updates about my uncle’s battle with cancer. As I read those emails, and then as I attended the funeral service last week, one of the things that struck me was the amount of care that my Aunt Lucy provided. Particularly in the last months and weeks of her husband’s life she offered an intense level of care. She comforted Andy, fed him, washed him, gave medicines, cried with him, laughed with him. Caring for her husband was my aunt’s preoccupation, with increasing intensity over the past year. Continue reading