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Making Sense of Jean Vanier

Two members of L'Arche Seattle use broken glass to create a mosaic.
Below is a reflection originally featured in our Hope Signs: July 2020 newsletter. Nathan Ball currently works as the Director of Major Giving for L’Arche USA. His words offer an inside perspective on how both global and personal events are impacting the many members of L’Arche today.

I became of member of L’Arche 35 years ago. Jean Vanier was my mentor and a spiritual father. He was a friend in community and a partner in mission. He helped me to better understand the meaning of my life.

But now, as I write, my heart begins to race. There is tightness in my chest. The Vanier-shaped knot of anger, confusion, and sorrow that lives in my gut is aching.

Reading the first-person accounts of the women whom Jean befriended and then seduced made me nauseous. He betrayed each one. The man who wrote the book on authentic community deceived us all. His actions stand in contrast to every value of the Jesus that he so often spoke and wrote about.

I try to make sense of this situation, to understand. Yes, Jean, like us all, was a mixture of light and darkness. But this? How? Why? Today I accept that I simply do not understand. The experience of personal betrayal is very strong.

I am so sad that Jean could not find the courage to tell us his story. In that important way, he was not part of our community. He stood outside of the circle. I too find it hard to tell my whole story. Today I commit to double down in my accountability to others. I need both the affirmation and the accountability that are the qualities of authentic community.

As I begin to let go of the Jean I thought I knew, I see more clearly the thousands of people who are living their lives with integrity as they seek love and justice in our L’Arche communities around the world. They are living their lives with an integrity that eluded our founder.

I experience a new vulnerability in our L’Arche body triggered by the revelations about Jean. How we live this time of vulnerability is deeply connected to the choices that we will make as individuals and as a body. We possess the wisdom that vulnerability is a treasure when honored and welcomed. I want to do the hard work to “show up” with the whole of who I am during this time of uncertainty in our L’Arche story.

I feel a renewed sense of responsibility for the future of L’Arche. The future of L’Arche as a movement is in our hands.

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