We Need One Another
We Need One Another: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together
by Jean Vanier
London: SPCK Publishing, 2018
144 pages, CAD$17.08, GBP£9.18, USD$14.25
Reviewed by Paul Miki
In the spring of 2008, Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, visited the community of Saint Martin in Nyahururu, Kenya. Kenya was reeling from the violence and bloodshed that erupted at the beginning of the year. Vanier tells us, “In the wake of that violence, pain, and loss it was a gift to gather together people from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds for a retreat, to listen and reflect on the word of God” (1).
We Need One Another: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together “is a reflection on the invitation of Jesus, who is asking us to become a friend of the poor and to befriend those we reject because of their color, their poverty, or disability. This is not easy unless we go through a process of transformation that occurs as we listen to the message of Jesus” (3). Vanier’s desire is this: “May my little book help each of us become messengers of peace, of mercy and of forgiveness” (3).
Steeped in the richness of the Gospel of John and reminiscent of Vanier’s Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, these are the chapters: “What Are You Looking For?,” The Cry of the Poor,” “The Feast Is Ready,” “To Live in Unity,” “Be Open,” “Encountering the Other,” “The Washing of the Feet,” and “Come Out.”
In his opening words to those at Saint Martin and to us today, Vanier reminds us that “each of us has a beautiful culture and our mother tongue is the language we receive from our culture. In my case, for many decades, I have lived with people, many of whom do not speak with words.… The reality of the world is that although we cannot always speak one another’s language, we can still attempt to understand one another’s pain, joy, hope, and dreams” (7).
Throughout the book, Vanier lovingly shares his story and the stories of those he has the great privilege to accompany. As he began to journey with people with disabilities, who were in institutions, they would constantly ask, “Do you love me?” (16). He tells us, “This touched me and called me forth as I realized their cry is also the cry of Jesus. ‘Do you love me?’”(17).
For Vanier, his encounters bring insight. “Living in L’Arche with people with severe disabilities has touched many things in me. I have felt the joy of love, but I have had to question my own values. It is only when I begin to discover my need to pretend that I am superior, that I begin to see what is broken in me. It is only then that I can enter into a relationship of mutual communion of hearts” (34).
For spiritual guides, seekers, and all who serve as wounded healers, Vanier reminds us that we all need one another and we “discover that as we go to the poor and broken, they change our lives and we become more human” (136).
Paul Miki, DMin, has served in school chaplaincy, is trained in Adlerian counselling psychology, and completed the Ontario Jubilee program in spiritual direction. He has over thirty years of experience as a religious studies and faith formation educator, family life minister, and retreat facilitator in the Archdiocese of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He currently works with a team of spiritual directors to foster contemplative small group spiritual accompaniment. He is the author of Parenting with Heart: A Program Based upon the Call to Love as We Are Loved. He may be reached at email@example.com.