May 28, 2015
Jean Vanier —
The Wisdom of Tenderness

The philosopher and Catholic social innovator Jean Vanier is a teacher of the wisdom of tenderness. The L’Arche movement, which he founded, centers around people with mental disabilities and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month. We experience how Jean Vanier brings the most paradoxical religious teachings to life: that there’s power in humility, strength in weakness, and light in the darkness of human existence.

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is a philosopher and the founder of L'Arche. He lives full-time in the original community in Trosly-Breuil, France. He's also the recipient of the 2015 Templeton Prize. His books include Befriending the Stranger, The Story of L’Arche, and Signs of the Times.

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From a converted farmhouse at the Bishop Claggett Center in rural Maryland, a rare interview with Jean Vanier. Watch his conversation with Krista Tippett and observe how he speaks with his whole body, especially his hands.

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As the program was ending I sent this email message to my daughters: "I am listening to the radio to an interview with Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche. A challenging and enriching experience to hear him." As the interview finished I thought the thought that comes to me increasingly: "no group of people,no nation, no race, no religion, no living individual is superior to any other -- we are all God's children."

Thank you for sharing the wisdom and faith of Jean Vanier and reminding us that we are all God's children, even though we miss the mark daily.
Comments above the line may be used, if you wish. I, a white,Protestant,idealist,and committed Christian, left the U.S. in 1944 as a short-term missionary teacher to work in the international mission school in Teheran. The Community School had children from many nations and at least five religions. Later I lived and worked in Lebanon, Shanghai, and Europe for many years. I am still learning more than I am teaching, receiving more than I am giving.

I also appreciated his comments about aging. I am 7+ years older than he.

Thank you.

Listening to Jean Vanier, I realized that I was suddenly feeling heartbroken. I have worked with the severely mentally ill for over a decade and much like the l'arche communities he has developed, the state hospital where I work is its own community. This rich, life affirming and bustling community will be closing in 3 months due to budget cuts and I am so sad to see its passing. It is a community built on trust and collaboration and that undefinable quality-hope. The clients I work with are wounded and by no fault of their own. It is by helping to heal their suffering that I am healed. We are family to some and I see vulnerable souls everyday in my work. I have been so fortunate to have found this community and would like to think that its core goodness could be recreated in the greater community. Jean Vanier gives me hope that this is possible. Our society so often wants to hide the members that we are ashamed of or scared of. I know that humans are the same no matter their upbringing, mental state or disability and the less we fear them the more love we encounter. I have worked with individuals who have given me so much more than I deserve. Their honesty, joy and fortitude have been lessons for me.


I really appreciated your story on the wisdom of tenderness and Jean Vanier's work. I have a learning disability which often makes connecting with others difficult. It was inspirational to hear Mr. Vanier talk about valuing people simply for their presence, rather than what they can do for us. Thank you. ~R

The program overwhelmed me, past and present experiences. I'm in the hospital now, one more surgery to go, then 6 weeks flat on back in assisted living. All goes well in March I'll be back in my power wheel chair. C-6,C-7 injuries. I'm recieving the unconditional love I so much need and others need to give. At ages 14 thru 16 I worked at a summer camp for mentally and phsically challenged kids. What a great help they were to me! Once I can roll better I will find some volunter work so I can return the compassion. Thank you all at SOF

L'Arche communities though challenging are profoundly transformative. They require a slower, gentler way of life that focus more on being and walking with rather than the faster more precarious way of living demanded by the frenetic US style of living.

His Words are so moving,so true about the way U.S. is heading,our citizens are treated badly if wealth Isn"t part of their life.More and more that I feel so uneasy,but I do not know who is doing what nor why bad guys are not being punished.

So moving to hear Krista's interview with Jean Vanier... I am a 54-year old woman and mom to a beautiful 24-year old daughter with Rett syndrome. Because of my daughter and the good fortunate misfortune of being downsized from a corporate position in 2003 I've had the blessing of spending considerable time in silence with my daughter and in meeting classmates of my daughter's and young children when I was called to a job with a moderate /severe classroom for seven years. The past decade I've dedicated myself and nearly all spare time to work toward increasing awareness of the intrinsic value of people who have various disabilities, especially in the rural area In which we live. The older I get, the more urgency I feel as my daughter's pure vulnerability concerns me, along with the vulnerability of many individuals I've come to know and love... while our son is committed to the long term care of his sister, I know that may be made fragile in the course of real life. My focus has always been on advocacy in a more legislative sense but, I sense that perhaps my advocacy should become more spiritually directed. I've learned not to put my trust in the world, so much. Thank you for this inspiring listening experience.

Amazing dedication with insight into our humanity for a world so out of touch with it.

I lived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and spent some time with the l'Arche community at Suyapa, which is one of the poorest barrios of the city. It is also a sign of hope for the Honduran people, for it is the site of the shrine to an apparition of the Virgin Mary to the poor. At l'Arche I learned to listen with the heart, in a way that seminary and clinical training never touched. All of us deserve our love and care and concern in our struggle for the common good, that no one should be left out, irrespective of our religion, race, sex, income, or handicap.

Inspirational indeed!  Imagine a world filled with people like this. 

Loved the quote about the 'concrete proof - take the angels ...'.  Perhaps his mentor was referring to the California Angels?  Josh Hamilton did speak at our church outside Chicago a while back.

Keep it up Krista and team!

Such a delightful
interview, as always! As a non-practicing Catholic, I found many of Jean Vanier's comments reconnecting me to that faith: God's gentle knock on the door, loving reality and finding God there and many more. The tenderness of the program surrounded me as I hiked through the hills outside my home in Hailey, Idaho.
Thank you once again Krista for enriching my life beyond measure.

Krista, I try to listen to your show as much as possible, you are a person I want in my life for your wit and wisdom and intimate ways in which you conduct your interviews - I would love to engage with you in a very long conversation, but who really has the time? You and your guests have wonderful things to share, to help people grow and evolve to make the world a better place. I suppose you are in my life already, haha, since I listen to your show.

I heard your show with Jean Vanier (Aug 25, 2013, Maine Public Broadcasting Network) and it came a right time for me, at this point in my life, as I am having a very hard time just getting by. You and M. Vanier inspired me today to a path I had (selfishly) declined earlier, and since tomorrow is Monday, that office will be open, and I shall pursue that path... it was the portion of today's show about having empathy for the disabled, the disfigured, that everyone wants and needs good human contact, even if that desire and need can't be communicated. (So do I have those same wants and needs, and I am alone in the world. Perhaps, by following this path, I will no longer be alone, thank you.) You changed my thought about this path, Krista, and you may relay to M. Vanier that at least one person was inspired to do as you both suggest.

Thank you for doing what you do, Krista, it's why I listen to your show :)

- Ron Rossignol

you made my week!

I enjoy the broadcasts very much. I sometimes think you may be following the lectionary since often the topics seem to go with the lessons for the day.

As a former (Lutheran) Christian and now an atheist - I can't help but wonder if there is a place in the L'Arche community for people like me. I do not subscribe to a dogmatic belief - ie: I cannot say with 100% certainty that there is no god. But for now, I do not consider myself to be one of "God's Children" - even if YOU believe that I am mistaken and that I AM "one of his children". To be a part of the L'Arche community, does a person have to buy into the "god concept" and/or to be involved in worship/religious activities while there? If so, then this type of community would not be "peaceful, tender, soothing and/or healing" for me.

It is not by accident that you happened on this wonderful message....there is a gentle knock at your door...don't fear what is on the other side a magnificent journey awaits. Don't give up or give in to negative there is no dogma only truth.....Good Luck:-)

I wonder if you ever received a response to your question, or if you'll even see this, but by all means yes, you are welcome in L'Arche. To paraphrase something Jean said once, "it's better for us (L'Arche) to have a non-Christian with a capacity for tenderness than a Christan without it." L'Arche is made up of all sorts, and while it is "faith-based", and many of its traditions are spiritual in nature, many who haven't fit a certain religious mold have found a safe place in L'Arche.

I caught the middle of your show on Sunday, yet the moment I heard his voice, and especially his reflections on vulnerability, I knew it was Jean Vanier speaking. I have been fortunate enough to be connected with a L'Arche community here in Florida for many years, and have felt my life transformed by my relationships with our community members. I know it's still August, but I thought you might enjoy this video Christmas card of L'Arche Jacksonville, done several years ago - it reflects the heart and joy of our community.

Thank you, Krista for your show, for all the fascinating and moving conversations. You speak for a world of listeners who seek a deeper, gentler understanding of our world and connections to one another.

What a beautiful voice.

Lo que sí es imperdonable y vergonzoso es la forma en que su programa un programa a base de fondos públicos con fines educativos y periodísticos informativos canta las alabanzas y santifica a la madre teresa. No he oído antes del señor Vanier. A lo mejor es una persona que ha hecho cosas muy buenas para su prójimo. Pero de la madre teresa es bien sabido que no es así, al contrario: Ella recogió grandes sumas de dinero supuestamente para los hogares que ella dirigía pero en vez de brindar alivio a los pobres los dejaba sufrir y gasto el dinero en abrir conventos y actividades misioneras imponiendo el dogma católico.

Un estudio llevado a cabo por las universidades de Montreal y Ottawa en 2013 concluyo que el renombre de ella como símbolo del altruismo y salvadora de los pobres no correspondiera a los hechos comprobables y que su imagen de toda la vida y subsiguiente beatificación fuera producto de una campaña de relaciones públicos deliberadamente manejada por la iglesia.

I Just Need To Thank You For All Your Programs It Helps Me Alot In So Many Different Ways Thank You Again. Tenshi~Love~No~Hate~

I listened to the program several days ago and have listened to portions of the unedited version every day since. I love to hear Vanier's voice and to contemplate the simplicity of being a friend of Jesus. Thank you so much for airing this program.

I am in the midst of listening to the unedited interview of Jean Vanier and I feel compelled to comment on the topic concerning the fears we have of people with disabilities. In part, he attributes this to the fear we all share in terms of acknowledging our own weaknesses. In that vein, I would like to add that economics is perhaps at the very heart of these fears. How do we love and nurture when we feel we are doomed to failure by the limitations of our economic resources, both financial and physical? What must we give up not only for ourselves but for others who are dependent upon us to be successful and do we have the strength for sacrifice? As a fundamental matter of survival, we often never get so far as to ask the second question, because lack of compassion or denial of compassion is inherently lost in the first question where spirituality struggles to exist.

Wow. This is such a beautfiful interview. Thank you to the both of you. I'm so inspired by the feeling of the soul in this interview. It adds so much beauty to life. I'm so taken aback.

Thank you.

Very good program. You can breath.

All the programs I have listened to are such a gift, for a person like me. Having always had a curious mind, but not attending college, there are many gaps in my intellectual landscape. Going to bed each nite, with my computer nearby and selecting so many diffferent comrades, from his holiness the Dali Lhama, to Dr. Oz., John Kabit Zinn, and so on. This program today taught me so much. Just the tidbits about ARISTOTLE, and the compassionate view about the memoirs of Mother Teresa, and the care of the body for those who need loving attention. In my life, I have the company of a slightly cognitively delayed grandchild, (27 years old) and so I have seen many people with far more difficult looking physical challenges. She lives in Edina, and I spend half of my year there. The other half, I spend in California, and attending to some of the needs of my 101 year old deaf/blind, independant-living, Aunt. I appreciate all this program offers and the people who make it work. Thank you Krista and staff.

In an hour I will be going for a walk with my daughter, a mentally disabled adult who lives nearby in an amazing apartment building for men and women who have experiened serious mental disability, chronic homelessness, addiction. She lived on the streets for 15 years. Today, she lives a simple life that exemplifies "the little" of which you spoke, a life she encourages me to live as well -- one of daily contact, caring, and hugs with those closest to her. Her acceptance of what others would consider an "unacceptable," "unfulfilled" life sounds so much like what you touched on today. Unlike so many, she has genuine gratitude for the modest life she has, maintains a deep spiritual life, and gets great pleasure being with those around her, tended as others might tend a treasured garden. Thank you for your messages and example.

My best friend, my sister Margaret (aka Maggie), was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the age of 64. I had moved back to be with mother and sister to "help out" with my sister due to some difficulties my mother was having with her. I am writing this to say "Thank you" for today's visit with Jean Vanier.

As my sister's mental health declined and she lost her site, her ability to remember words, people, to feed herself, bathe, and all other things it was apparent we could not care for her on our own. We placed her in a "nursing home" and visited 3 - 4 times a week. Although this was not the solution I would have wanted I made it my mission to check on her at all hours, sometime driving the 30 miles at midnight to make sure she was being cared for properly. The most amazing thing to me was no matter when I arrived and I touched her or hugged her, "petted"her, fixed her hair, fed her meals, treats, told her something funny and then laughed she would laugh with me, jabber back at me, and I always felt she knew who I was....which for the past ten years since she left me to go the that wonderful, joyful place Monsieur Vanier spoke about, has given me peace and the ability to remember the best of times and not dwell on the loss of my best friend. Agai
n thank you.


In the desert
these words
hung in the air

“Why not?

Make bread
for yourself?”

For he had
touched stone

as if
amidst living waters

the very sound of the world.

Jean Vanier is (was?) a living saint, indeed.

One can pray for that child.

Mother Teresa was being interviewed and the interviewer asked 'What is wrong with the world?' And she said 'Me, you (the interviewer, and him (the cameraman)'. Start with ourselves.

Humility is to accept reality. Very beautiful.

Mother Teresa will be canonized this coming fall (or in 2016). Her darkness can be misinterpreted - it has to be seen as the dark night of the soul. She had no doubt. One can think that God hid Himself from her so she could turn to the poor with her whole heart, and find Jesus there. But when everyone else saw her, we saw God.

How different this is - and a remedy - to the culture of death and the killing of the elderly, the unborn, etc. It also shows that what is said of the Catholic Church is not true - it s a perfectly holy Church, but made up of sinners.

We see too that in these last days doctrinal differences, etc., are being eclipsed (since we don't have the time to resolve them) by just love.

When Vanier talked about the vulnerability of God, parental love came to my mind. As love inherently makes the lover vulnerable, mothers and fathers dramatize daily God's eternal saga to rescue human race from their selfish nature. If God is love and Jesus is the one who knocks at the door, that shows an incredible picture of a God who persistently try to love us every day, like moms and dads do... and is rejected a lot of times, like moms and dads are.

I love Onbeing. I am hoping that Krista will soon have a disability rights activist on the show that may offer a different perspective. I understand completely Vanier's critique of our culture of disconnectedness, but I would love to listen to Krista talk with someone who is more informed about the social model of disability and how that affects how we see disability and who is labeled as "disabled."

Apostle Paul says that when I am weak then I am strong. God's power is made perfect in weakness. From this we learn that God loves to help the person who knows your weakness, but he does not help even wise man.

I am the pastor of one of perhaps one of the most diverse churches in the country....
I am a student of Jean v. And I ateach his wisdom daily..
A teach once told me to find a saint with whom you resonate and read read them...
Jean Vanear is my saint...someone who has gleaned a wisdom by the life and choices he has grateful for this man.
Shawn Anglim

I have enjoyed listening to and reading Jean Paul Vanier's work since the sixties.
As a Certified Nursing Assistant at the time and for over thirty years since I have found his wisdom helpful and life changing for both me and the people I have been blessed to help care for.
At one point I worked in a large care facility and was involved in the development of a special unit for people with Alzheimer's Disease. To put into practise his approach to the work was a personal gift to me and so many times other staff and supervisors asked me how I was able to accomplish certain cooperation and responses in the people we cared for. I could only respond that the extra five minuets given to listening and watching and smiling and using my best nursing skills were the best tools I ever used. To continue to remind myself that this person who no longer knows how to go to the bathroom or eat his own meals was once a beautiful giver to others and always deep deep inside, his full personality was possibly still available to sense the care I was there to provide. How many times did I witness this to be true. In particular I shall always remember the gentleman who always wore blue jeans and jacket and a western leather belt. The ability to care for himself in ANY WAY was no longer there. However, whenever the music therapist came with her guitar and she began to play "Home on the Range" Joe came close to the music and sang in a beautiful voice every word and stanza of that lovely song. His gaze was vacant, but his mind and heart were right there for all to enjoy.