Update: Jean Vanier passed away on May 7, 2019, in the early morning in Paris.
On the same day, Fr. George Strohmeyer, long-time priest assigned to L'Arche Erie (the location I visited), celebrated the 55th anniversary of his ordination.
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On Holy Saturday, the world heard that Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche, had moved to palliative care at the age of 90. My friend Chris Wylie wrote this poem in response, which in turn led me to write the essay that follows the poem. We are publishing our thoughts simultaneously.
You created a place for people like me
A caring and loving community
You called it The Ark
L'Arche in your tongue
Together as one
To learn and to grow was your grand vision
Fulfilling in unison love's great mission
Grow we did like flowers in bloom
Ushering Heaven into the room
Go with peace as we wish you good rest
Because of your spirit we have been blessed
We leave you these words we're grateful to say
Thank you for everything Jean Vanier
Jelly beans. Not just bags, boxes, or even crates. The day I arrived at a L’Arche office to begin a short-term residence as part of my seminary work, the office was full to the brim with cases of jelly beans.
The jelly beans were part of a federal government surplus program. They’d been stored in a warehouse for a while, and someone had decided it was time to share them. So social service agencies throughout the northeast received a share of the supply.
And social service agencies throughout the northeast had no idea how to handle stacks and stacks of jelly beans. If I wanted to sit, I had to move jelly beans. In the end, I was encouraged to (and did) take some jelly beans with me as a souvenir of the trip.
For the remainder of a two-week period, my wife and I enjoyed the hospitality of a L’Arche community, and shared lives, love, and jelly beans like never before.
We also, as befitting a seminary assignment, discussed the workings of L’Arche with people in the business office, and, most of all, with the community’s full-time chaplain. Refreshing and insightful discussions with a colleague of theology, pastoral concerns, the history and writings of Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen. In one of those talks, I asked how he approached people with limited language skills. He replied that they didn’t need to understand the words, they would understand the love.
Love is sort of like jelly beans. It’s everywhere, you just have to learn to appreciate the gifts, even if the package may be different.
And now, Mr. Vanier, as you stand on the edge of eternity, maybe we can understand the love you have given the world, the gift of learning about ourselves.
Notes: Tim Vermande
Photo: Tiia Monto, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30369613