Jean Vanier on Ladder Climbing and Communion

I have read these two pages in Jean Vanier’s book From Brokenness to Community at least four times. Basically, the scenario for picking it again has always been the same. I ask myself a question something like this. What is wrong with me that I seem not to have what it takes to form meaningful relationships? The answer, as I read it, is that I’m hard-hearted, that I’m a ladder climber, not a ladder descender. I have everything to offer others, but that everything is an emptying of myself in love for them, that is, to be Christlike.

Jean Vanier:

“When I was in the navy, I was taught to give order to others. That came quite naturally to me! All my life I had been taught to climb the ladder, to seek promotion, to compete, to be the best, to win prizes. This is what society teaches us. In doing so, we lose community and communion. It was not natural or easy for me to live in communion with people, just to be with them. How much more difficult it was for me to be in communion with people who could hardly speak or had little to speak about.

“Communion did not come easily to me. I had to change and to change quite radically. When you have been taught from an early age to be first, to win, and then suddenly you sense that you are being called by Jesus go down the ladder and to share your life with those who have little culture, who are poor and marginalized, a real struggle breaks out within oneself. As I began living with people like Raphael and Philip, I began to see all the hardness of my heart. It is painful to discover the hardness in one’s own heart. Raphael and the others were crying out simply for friendship and I did not quite know how to respond because of the other forces within me, pulling me to go up the ladder. But over the years, the people I live with in L’Arche have been teaching and healing me.

“They have been teaching me that behind the need for me to win, there are my own fears and anguish, the fear of being devalued or pushed aside, the fear of opening up my heart and of being vulnerable or of feeling helpless in front of others in pain; there is the pain and brokenness of my own heart.

2015-04-05 01.02.19 pm“I discovered something which I had never confronted before, that there were immense forces of darkness and hatred in my own heart. At particular moments of fatigue or stress, I saw forces of hate rising up inside me, and the capacity to hurt someone who was weak and was provoking me. That, I think, was what caused me the most pain: to discover who I really am, and to realize that maybe I did not want to know what I really was! And then I had to decide whether I would just continue to pretend that I was okay and throw myself into hyperactivity, project where I could forget all the garbage and prove to others how good I was. Elitism is the sickness of us all. That is at the heart of apartheid and every form of racism. The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them and to discover that the worst enemy is inside our own hearts not outside!”

Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, 18-19.

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