I just recently started reading, Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness, by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier. Stanley Hauerwas is a world renown theologian and ethicist who has spent most of his life in academia, while Jean Vanier is the founder of the L’Arche movement. L’Arche is a worldwide movement of intentional communities where people with and without physical and mental disabilities live in community, jointly caring for each other’s physical and spiritual needs. In the first chapter, Vanier talks about how he dislikes when he and other non-disabled folks are commended on their “service” to those with disabilities. Vanier argues that he has been the one who has received hospitality and healing from those he lives with. He truly believes that those who live with him in his community have awakened him to the suffering and crucified Christ in a way that he could not see on his own. He is the one who has been blessed and transformed.
Often, we think we are the ones who have something to give to the marginalized. Churches and nonprofits often like to view service as a one way transaction, but that is not what Scripture and the saints have to say. Scripture tells us that God not only hears the cry of the marginalized, but that God is also present in the marginalized themselves (Mt. 25:35-36). How do you view the Other, the neighbor in need, the marginalized, and yourself? In chapter one, Vanier leaves us with these words from Pope John Paul II:
There is no doubt that in revealing the fundamental frailty of the human condition, the disabled person becomes an expression of the tragedy of pain. In this world of ours that approves hedonism and is charmed by ephemeral and deceptive beauty, the difficulties of the disabled are often perceived as a shame or a provocation and their problems burdens to be removed or resolved as quickly as possible. Disabled people are instead living icons of the crucified Son. They reveal mysterious beauty of the One who emptied himself for our sake and made himself obedient unto death. They show us over and above all appearances that the ultimate foundation of human existence is Jesus Christ. It is said justifiably so that disabled people are humanity’s privileged witnesses. They can teach everyone about the love that saves us; they can become heralds of a new world, no longer dominated by force, violence, and aggression, but by love, solidarity, and acceptance – a new world transfigured by the light of Christ, the Son of God, who became incarnate, who was crucified, and rose for us.