While voices in power from the left and the right continue to denigrate one another, let’s make it a new year’s goal to seek out voices of compassion and civility. Sometimes we just need someone to help us shut out the pejorative noise.
Humanitarian and spiritual director Jean Vanier is often that voice for me. His life work was to speak love to whom society would deem unlovable. In Vanier’s seminal works on pastoral care, he urges us to take a non-judgmental posture, to put away what my elementary school teachers many years ago called put-downs.
Derogatory comments to classmates just because they looked, acted, and spoke differently were not tolerated. Now they’ve become the order of the day on the world stage. A sad example, indeed.
Vanier has become my mentor in the realm of showing regard for people who think, behave, and struggle differently from me. You can quickly get acquainted with his teachings in Essential Writings, Carolyn Whitney- Brown’s compilation of Vanier’s books and lectures. Here she catalogues his work into a practical theology to adopt as we seek to lift up and not put down. Vanier’s wisdom carries a lot of credibility, since he actually made his home with men suffering from mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. Some men loved him in return. Some men had nothing to offer. And some hurt him.
Essential Writings is a great overview. Befriending the Stranger is another favorite of mine by Vanier. It’s written in a style that encourages meditation and reflection on how Jesus cared for others. Perhaps these two books would be good reads for you in 2017!
One of Vanier’s most notable sayings is “change the world, with love, one heart at a time.” In this simple encouragement, I hear Vanier affirming everyday people that they too can be agents of transformation. Most of us won’t reach the vast numbers of people that Vanier did. But one heart at a time is doable.
My own heart heals when I recall a visit long ago by Reverend Herring, the local church pastor. I was around seven years old and didn’t know him very well because our worship attendance was hit or miss. Regardless, Reverend Herring reached out to us during a particularly tumultuous time. Dad yelled a lot, Mom cried a lot, and I was miserable. The only thing I remember about these pastoral visits was the kindness that shone through Reverend Herring’s smile. That’s it. I have no idea what he said, how long he visited, or how many times he came to our house. All I know is that a gentle person smiled at me and took time to be present with me during a scary period of my life. Reverend Herring did what he could to bring calm into my chaos.
That’s the point I think Vanier wants us to embrace. Do what we can, when we can. Do one small thing to become a healing memory for a hurting soul.
A Proverb in the Old Testament scriptures echoes this well.
Do not withhold doing good, when it is in your power to do it.
Words for me to live by in 2017.
What will be yours?