We Need One Another by Jean Vanier
My friend Jean has a theory that we don’t buy books for the present: we buy them to sit on our bookshelves, waiting for the moment when we need their wisdom. At that point, they will ease themselves forward on the bookshelf and remind you of their presence. We need one another is just this sort of book. Buy it, read it and take comfort in knowing that it will be there when you need it.
In eight short chapters, each based on a bible reading, Vanier gently challenges us to consider what it was that led us to follow Jesus and whether we have been true to that first call, to our first experienced of being loved by God. Like Jesus, he poses the simple questions which are so often the hardest to answer: What are you looking for? What are your desires? What do you long for? Do you love me? And he imagines the first disciples asking to be transformed, to escape the powers of egoism and selfishness that hold me to myself and prevent me from opening up, that prevent me from listening and from being in relationships with people who are different. I wonder, did we realise that this was what we are asking?
Introducing us to Eric, Robert, Janine and others, Vanier shows us that every person is unique and precious: important to God and so also to us. In a world which values capability, we must hold and love those deemed incapable, because we are not so different. There is beauty and vulnerability in each person he reminds us: we have to learn to see the beauty through the pain. And that includes ourselves. We’re not called to be superheroes: we are called to be human. We must not forget or take for granted the incredible vulnerability of Jesus, the wounded heart of Christ.
Most of us understand the theory of pastoral care; the importance of listening, perhaps even befriending – but Jean Vanier challenges us to go further and take the risk of entering into a deeper relationship with people who are poor or marginalized or have been rejected because of race, disability or past history and allowing ourselves to be healed and transformed by their friendship. Allowing ourselves to move from the comparative safety of “doing for” to the vulnerability of “being with.”
The Gospels begin with the call to follow; they end with the challenge to go. Go and make disciples of all people. And the disciples discover that making disciples is about more than “doing for” or even “being with”, they discover that it is about their own transformation:
Jesus sends out his disciples so that they may discover his presence in all those who are broken, lost and have no hope. It is here that we begin to discover that as we go to the poor and the broken they change our lives and make us become more human. And in becoming more human and loving, we become better disciples of Jesus.
Reviewed by Revd Norma Fergusson