November 21, 2008


A Brief Review of

by Chris Smith.

Jean Vanier started what would become the L’Arche communities by taking in two mentally challenged men in 1964.  In the intervening years, he has written profusely out of these experiences in communal care for those with mental or developmental challenges. His writings – marked by their clear, pointed prose spun in a warm, gentle tone – have found a large audience around the world.  I, for one, have long considered Vanier one of my favorite writers.  Thus, I was pleased to see the Orbis Books had released a volume of his “Essential Writings” this fall.  The 40+ page introduction by Carolyn Whitney-Brown, who had lived for a number of years the L’Arche Daybreak community in Canada, does an excellent job of framing his life and tracing his development.  Although I am not typically a fan of these sort of collections that pull paragraph to page-long snippets out of their original contexts, Vanier’s writing, like that of a poet, packs loads of meaning into relatively few words and thus it works better in this format than the writings of other authors.  The selection of passages does a superb job of representing the span of Vanier’s life and work and also at including pieces from his lesser known works.  However, the finest part of this book is perhaps the epilogue, which emphasizes the vision of shalom that has served as a catalyst for Vanier’s life.  Jean Vanier: Essential Writings is an excellent introduction to Vanier’s writings.  When I introduce people to Vanier’s work, I usually recommend one of the little volumes From Brokenness to Community or Encountering ‘the Other,’ and I will probably continue to do so, but now I’m glad that I can also recommend this broader work to them.


Jean Vanier: Essential Writings.
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2008.
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