Suffering Bodies

Jean Vanier from On Being with Krista Tippett (12/20/07) The Wisdom of Tenderness:

"First of all, we don't know what to do with our own pain, so what to do with the pain of others? We don't know what to do with our own weakness except hide it or pretend it doesn't exist. So how can we welcome fully the weakness of another if we haven't welcomed our own weakness?...And there are some elements despicable in ourselves, which we don't want to look at, but which are part of our natures, that we are mortal."

"We are very fragile in front of the future. Accidents and sicknesses is the reality. We are born in extreme weakness and our life will end in extreme weakness. So this, people don't want to hold on to that. They want to prove something. They want security. They want to have big bank accounts and all that sort of stuff. But then also, a whole lots of fear is within us...We are a frightened people. And, of course, the big question is, why are we so frightened of people with disabilities?""

"The balance of our world frequently is seen as a question of power. That if I have more power and more knowledge, more capacity, then I can do more...and when you 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.' And this is the history of humanity."

"And that is all of what I'd call the whole educational system, is 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. So the equilibrium that people with disabilities could bring is precisely this equilibrium of the heart."

"...You see, maybe our father is a very strong man. A businessman. And when he comes home, if he gets down on his hands and knees and plays with the children, it's the child that is teaching the father something about tenderness, about love, about the father looking at the needs of the child, the face of the child, the hands of the child, relating to the child."

"...the incredible thing about children is they're unified in their body and in — whereas we, we can be very disunified. We can say one thing and feel another. And so as a child can teach us about unity and about fidelity and about love, so it is people with disabilities."

"You'll find lot of communities which are based on the word, thus to say we speak of an ideal together and we are committed to an ideal or to a vision and so on. But L'Arche is based on body and on suffering bodies. And so they are seen as useless, and so we welcome those who apparently are useless. And it's a suffering body which brings us together. And it's attention to the body. You see, when somebody comes to our community and is quite severely handicapped, what is important is to see that the body is well. Bathing, helping people dress, to eat. It's to communicate to them through the body. And then, as the body can become comfortable, then the spirit can rise up. There's a recognition. There's a contact. There's a relationship."