Bigger on the Inside

Jean Vanier: Essential Writings edited and introduced by Carolyn Whitney-Brown

Essays from the founder of the L’Arche communities 

“Change the world with love, one heart at a time” is the central message of Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community.  I had heard of L’Arche and Vanier before reading this book, but I have come to understand them both a good deal more since sitting down with Essential Writings.  Vanier, the son of a former Governor General of Canada, is an ex-serviceman of the Royal Navy who established a community of care for intellectually disabled men.  Today the movement which arose from this includes hundreds of houses and religious communities across France, North and South America and Asia.  This volume is made up of quotes taken from twenty-six of Vanier’s books, published across the last four decades, and was produced to coincide with his 80th birthday in 2008.

Vanier has much to say about the human condition and in living with compassion and dignity among people who are differently abled.  The insights into community, spirituality and peacemaking that make up this book were drawn from Vanier’s lectures to international conferences and councils, small group devotions within L’Arche, as well as his personal journals and correspondence.

This book is best used to dip in and out of, perhaps taking each section to reflect upon rather than to read straight through.  As a chaplain I enjoyed the gentleness with which Vanier addresses suffering, and the personal stories of his work among the poor in health but great in spirit.


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