On Retreat with Jean Vanier
“You are a woman of so few words”, complained my friend, when I answered her question on how the retreat with Jean Vanier was with: “Great!”
To my defense I have to say this question is really difficult to answer because there are so many layers to this experience and a lot still has to sink in.
You can listen to Jean’s reflection on the gospel of John on an intellectual level, but if you stay there you will miss most of the message. Jean is 84 years old now; he has become more vulnerable and fragile. And although he is still an amazing teacher, it was this vulnerability and fragility that touched me deeply and drew me into the mystery of the life of Christ. And I think the word “mystery” describes my experience best.
Someone else asked me: Was the retreat great because of what was said or because Jean Vanier is such a famous person?
I didn’t quite know how to answer this question, because there is something about Jean that makes his words special. But it is not fame; it is humility, gentleness, vulnerability, love and trust in God. Jean does not draw the attention to himself, but to God. He has such a deep relationship with Jesus and you can see how his life has been shaped by this relationship. Jean is well read, intellectual and smart but he is quick to point out that his true teachers are his friends with intellectual disabilities.
Can I give you an intellectual account on what Jean has said? I have a whole journal full of notes that I took, but something deeper happened that I can’t put into words.
All I can say is: God’s spirit was at work.
I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to attend the retreat on the Gospel of John in Trosly, France. It was special to be in the place where L’Arche started, to meet Jean Vanier and be on retreat with other long term members of L’Arche.