One of the books I have been reading during Lent is Jean Vanier’s Becoming Human. As I shared here, I have worked with special needs students for the past 7+ years and have learned much more than I have taught. The marginalized, the overlooked, and the oft-neglected are those whom Vanier has dedicated his life to and has lived with and among. He has learned and written about this shared life and its resulting wisdom.
The first chapter of this book deals with the universal condition of loneliness. He begins with, “This book is about the liberation of the human heart from the tentacles of chaos and loneliness, and from those fears that provoke us to exclude and reject others.” Vanier describes loneliness as “a taste of death” that is “essentially a human experience.”
It is not just about being alone. Loneliness is not the same thing as solitude. We can be alone yet happy, because we know that we are part of a family, a community, even the universe itself. Loneliness is a feeling of not being part of anything, of being cut off. It is a feeling of being unworthy, of not being able to cope in the face of a universe that seems to work against us.
It is a feeling of being unloved and, as a result, unloveable.
Vanier has found love to be the antidote to loneliness. And love occurs, grows, and flourishes in community.
“There are for me, seven aspects of love that seem necessary for the transformation of the heart in those who are profoundly lonely.” These aspects are extremely helpful in opening up the layers within love and hence community. Here they are:
The first aspect of love, the key aspect, is revelation…To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention, and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention…As soon as we start selecting and judging people instead of welcoming them as they are – with their sometimes hidden beauty, as well as their more frequently visible weaknesses – are reducing life, not fostering it. When we reveal to people our belief in them, their hidden beauty rises to the surface where it may be more clearly seen by all.
To love also means to understand…I believe that every act of violence [which stems from loneliness] is also a message that needs to be understood. Violence should not be answered just by greater violence but by real understanding. We must ask: where is the violence coming from? What is its meaning?
Communication is at the heart of love…I have learned that the process of teaching and learning, of communication, involves movement, back and forth: the one who is healed and the one who is healing constantly change places. As we begin to understand ourselves, we begin to understand others. It is a part of the process of moving from idealism to reality, from the sky to the earth…We must learn to listen and then to communicate.
It is not enough to reveal to people their value, to understand and care for them. To love people is to celebrate them…they need laughter and play, they need people who will celebrate life with them and manifest their joy of being with them.
It is not just a question of doing things for others but of helping them to do things for themselves, helping them to discover the meaning of their lives…not to make people…’normal,’ but to help them grow towards maturity. For each person…growth towards maturity will be different.
To Be In Communion
Communion is mutual trust, mutual belonging; it is then to-and-fro movement of love between two people where each one gives and each one receives. Communion is not a fixed state, it is an ever-growing and deepening reality that can turn sour if one person tries to possess the other, thus preventing growth. Communion is mutual vulnerability and openness to the other. It is liberation for both, indeed, where both are allowed to be themselves, where both are called to grow in greater freedom and openness to others and to the universe.
To a certain extent we lose control in our lives when we are open to others. Communion of hearts is a beautiful but also dangerous thing. Beautiful because it is a new form of liberation; it brings a new joy because we are no longer alone. We are close even if we are far away. Dangerous because letting down our inner barriers means that we can be easily hurt. Communion makes us vulnerable.
God is present in this liberating communion.
The most crucial of all in our equation…is forgiveness. The bonding between people in communion implies that we forgive each other and that we ask each other for forgiveness…As we live and work and pray together, we build a new form of family.
Which aspect of love touches you the most?
Which aspect of love are you longing for the most?
How have you found these seven aspects in community?
Other posts in this Lent series: