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Signs of the times: seven signs of hope in a troubled world – Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier

Signs of the times: seven signs of hope in a troubled world

ISBN: 9780 2325 3015 5

DLT, 2013, 160 pp, £8.99

This is a profound book, and a challenging one. Jean Vanier has learnt something about the heart of God that has altered his perception so he has insights into how our society, our church and we, can be different. He insists that ‘to be with the weakest in our society is where we will meet the One who humbled himself for us all’.

He gives us seven signs. These are not static symbols but a way of moving from where we are now to where we should be: a more Gospel centred direction. He gives suggestions of how to set off in this direction. I write this as the BBC’s Songs of Praise may be coming from the ‘jungle’, the migrants’ camp in Calais. Using Vanier’s idea: if we go, not arrogantly as if we were taking God there, but humbly and to care, we will find God there among these poor and vulnerable people. We can learn from them.

Having spent over 50 years in L’Arche communities, which enable people both with profound disabilities and those who claim to be able bodied to live together, Vanier speaks from experience. This book is part testimony, showing a heart for a lived out faith. He challenges the church as an institution and us as individual Christians to listen, work with the poor and those who are sidelined by society, and there we become nearer to God.  We who have learnt that power, celebrity, youth, money, to be white and male is what we should venerate, can read (in translation) Vanier showing us another way which is Jesus’ way.

It is a book to savour; every paragraph is a thought, a gem. Even the chapter headings are contemplations in themselves: From Humiliation to Humility is my favourite. In this chapter he doesn’t duck the disgrace and sin brought about by the cover-up of the child abuses done by church members. He shows us how to redeem this so that we will take the humiliation and use it to become humble, how we will become as we should be.

It disturbed me and changed the way I behave to those people I visit in a home for people with dementia and behavioural problems. If you want to stay as you are, read something else.

Revd Jan Ashton

 Team Vicar, Kidderminster