Archives For L’Arche


September 10 marks the Birthday of Jean Vanier, the French philosopher, theologian, and founder of the L’Arche communities

In honor of the occasion, we offer a series of brief video clips that introduce Vanier’s life and work…

*** Books by Jean Vanier

God’s Dream for Humanity:

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An Excerpt from Jean Vanier’s classic book

Community and Growth.

Jean Vanier.

Paperback: Paulist Press, 1989.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

The Slow Church blog also features two great pieces on Vanier today (for his birthday):

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“Christ’s Way of Peace
Manifested in our Weakness”

A Review of
Living Gently in a Violent World:
The Prophetic Witness of Weakness.

Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier.


By Chris Smith.


Living Gently in a Violent World:
The Prophetic Witness of Weakness.

Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier.
Paperback: IVP Books, 2008.
Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $12 ] [ Amazon ]


Since this past summer, when I first got word of this book, I have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to dig into it.  Not only is it written by two of the most important figures in Christian thought today, it also is the first book in the series “Resources for Reconciliation” from IVP Books and Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation.   And this little book did not disappoint, offering a brief but compelling argument for the place of weakness in the life of the Church.

            Living Gently is primarily a book about the L’Arche communities, which Vanier founded in the mid-1960’s, and the witness that these communities offer to the wider church.  For those who are unfamiliar with L’Arche,  these communities are comprised of people with and without severe disabilities, who share life together and learn and grow together.  Indeed, L’Arche provides a fertile context in which to think about our calling to be ambassadors of Christ’s reconciliation.  Both Hauerwas and Vanier have spent many years reflecting on the place of disability and weakness in the church community, albeit in different contexts: Vanier within L’Arche and Hauerwas within the academic community.  Those who may have discovered Hauerwas’ writings in the last decade, may not be familiar with his earlier works on medical ethics and the Church, in which he frequently explores the role of disability and suffering.

            There are four essays in Living Gently, two by Vanier and two by Hauerwas, as well as an introduction and concluding essay by John Swinton that frame the Vanier/Hauerwas conversation nicely.  In the book’s first essay, Vanier describes the vision for the L’Arche communities, which he characterizes with the images of “fragility” and “the friendship of God.”  Vanier here names three practices that are essential to the vitality of L’Arche: eating together, praying together and celebrating together (i.e., laughing, fooling around and having fun).  He concludes by sharing the primary theological insight that he has learned through his experience with the L’Arche communities: “To become a friend of Jesus is to become a friend of the excluded.  As we learn to be a friend of the excluded, we enter into this amazing relationship that is friendship with God” (41).

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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.
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $13 ] [ Amazon ]