Rev. Donna Tourneur
Many may have missed it. Some won’t even care, but these words are important to remember. People had come from all over the world to celebrate the life of Jean Vanier. We like to call him the founder of the L’Arche movement, but at the end of his funeral the words of the current International Leader, Stephan Posner, stayed with me. He reminded those assembled, that Vanier preferred to think of himself not as the founder of L’Arche but as the first to arrive at L’Arche.
L’Arche is about relationship, more like starting a family than founding a movement. You don’t think of yourself as a founder when you begin a family, possibly more like the grandfather of descendants still to come. The point was well made. It has been said by those who knew Jean best, that’s he was far from perfect, that he hurt people and he was aware of his sharp tongue and flawed nature.
He was of course, human as well as deeply Christian. Yet, he offered himself, as a servant to others, and an example to many. He was a good man who tried his best to shine a light in a dark place, but the light was never to reflect himself, but the eternal love which existed before any of us, and remains beyond our knowing. The relationship grew into a vision of what might be possible in a world so deeply divided. When we live with the needs of the most vulnerable in focus, we live into the life of Jesus.
In the season of Easter, we are given the opportunity to hear from the first Christian community as we read from the book of Acts. We realize that the goals of being a community who follow Christ are often easier to imagine than to live. For example, holding all things in common, using only what you personally need are positions that intentional communities often struggle with. Living into an idea of selflessness is not easy for anyone.
Perhaps the unsung hero of the Vanier family was Jean’s mother Pauline. After her husband, George, died, she was attending a retreat, where she once again heard the reading about the rich young man who was told that to enter the kingdom, he has to sell his possessions and give them to the poor. She immediately knew that she would sell all she had and move to Trosly with her son, to live in community there. Her generosity supported the movement in financial and spiritual ways, and she became fondly known as Grandmere in that community.
The point is, we all need mentors and visionaries. As we live into the inclusive invitation of Jesus we bring with us our flawed human selves, ready to love and forgive, to be loved and be forgiven, and as eager to be a light in a dark place as we are to receive the light in our own darkness. Its something to remember as we strive to live a faith for today.
Rev. Donna Tourneur serves as minister at Trinity United Church in New Glasgow, and is a member of the Faith Leaders Group who support L’Arche International.