Yesterday we spent a few hours walking along a stunning beach - Crane Beach in Ipswich - five plus miles of sand, sun and gentle surf. Later we explored Gloucester - another lovely coastal town - and closed the day learning to swing dance at the Ipswich River Walk. Today we're going to the small rural cemetery where Dianne's first American relatives are buried before heading to Lawrence, home of the "Bread and Roses" strike 101 years ago. Then we'll meander across US 2 on our way home and see what strikes us along the way.
While reading Vanier's Becoming Human last night - in the section he calls belonging (in contrast to the first chapter on loneliness) - a few insights spoke to me. First, the heart of this book is about living honestly in the midst of life's polarities: birth and death, individuality and community, sin and grace. Second, Vanier seeks to reclaim the importance of heart in an era obsessed with the head. Each of his illustrations from various personal experiences at L'Arche are stories - not analysis - of how patient love brings a measure of healing to broken people. He writes, "We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We all belong to a common, broken humanity. We all have wounded, vulnerable hearts." And that rings true to my experience, too.
Three quotes are worth pondering as this day unfolds...
+ First, is the paradox of weakness. Vanier writes: "Throughout our lives, we are pone to fatigue, sickness and accidents. Weakness is at the heart of each one of us. Weakness becomes a place of chaos and confusion if in our weakness we are not wanted; it becomes a place of peace and joy if we are accepted, listened to, appreciated and loved. Some people are infuriated by weakness; they are disturbed by the cry of a child. Weakness awakens hardness and anger in them. Equally dangerous, if less obviously so, weakness pushes other people to a possessive love."
Both responses to our own weakness - and the frailties all around us - keep us reactive rather than responsive. We are either denying the brokenness or trying to cure it and neither are necessary. Vanier continues: "To be small, to be sick, to be dying, to be dead are stages of powerlessness, they appear to us to be anti-life and so we deny them... (but) if we want to always be powerful and strong, we deny part of our being, we live an illusion. To be human is to accept who we are: a mixture of strength and weakness." Honoring and recognizing this polarity sounds like the song of ancient wisdom: to all things there is a season.
+ Second, there is a special charism given to weakness. "Weakness carries within it a secret power. The cry and the trust that flow from weakness can open up hearts. The one who is weaker can call forth powers of love in the one who is stronger. Do those who are stronger respond with love because in an unconscious way they identify with the one who is weak? Do they, in some way, know that one day they too will be weak and will cry out for help, recognition and love?"
Hearing, honoring and responding to the cries of those in need is one of the ways we become human. It is also how we learn to see our selves honestly and own our own broken and weak places. As Vanier writes later: "We do not discover who we are, we do not reach true humanness, in a solitary state; we discover it through mutual dependency, in weakness, in learning through belonging." I think it took me 50 years to learn that simple but life changing truth.
+ And third, when our weakness is integrated into our hearts, it can be a gift for others, too: "One who is weak, who lives in true communion with another, will not see his/her own weakness as something to be judged, as something negative, he will sense that he is appreciated and that he has a place." That is, our weakness will help us find a resting place within a community where we can be safe and creative. I think of my life-standard from Matthew 11: 28-30. Come unto me all ye who are tired and heavy-laden and I will give ye rest.
I have another week of away/vacation time to ponder all of this... but now it is time for cold pizza for breakfast and the start of another adventure.
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