The Broken Body

BOOK REVIEW                                                             


The Broken Body – Journey to Wholeness by Jean Vanier          *****   

This is one of the best explanations of what it means to be a Christian that I have ever read. 

Jean Vanier is the founder of the L’Arche Community, a world-wide network of communities for those with extreme physical and mental disability.  In this book he uses the deep understanding of human pain and weakness that he has experienced over many years to lead the reader gently through what it means to be human and how God’s gentle, healing touch is given to us through Jesus Christ.

The book begins by looking at “Our Broken Body” revealing to us just how we are all broken and disabled in some way and in need of healing, but a different kind of healing.

In the second part of the book, Vanier moves on to look at “God’s Unfolding Plan”.  It is in this section that he takes us through what we already know about our faith, but in a way that brings it to life.  No longer is it a flat creed on a piece of paper, but he opens up to us the reality of our own need and that of those around us.  But more than this he shows us how we need each other and can help each other in communion and compassion.

Recently, someone told me that Emperor penguins always keep the old, young and week at the centre of the group with the strong at the edge to protect them from the wind and possible predators.  Vanier shows how our society has marginalised the poor and broken but he goes on to show how those whom society seems not to value have so much of God’s love and can reveal this to us.  It is through understanding this that we and they may be healed

In the third and final part of the book, “Restoring the Broken Body to Wholeness”, Jean Vanier opens up a new way of being for us.  He describes how, by “descending the ladder” of power and wealth, by openning ourselves to the reality of our own pain we may be healed.  He describes the way that community is formed for mutual encouragement and growth, how community can be a painful place but how it has the power to heal.  He also touches on special kinds of relationship (the church, marriage, God) and again reveals what, in a sense we always knew but perhaps never fully understood.

I found this to be such an easy book to read.  I think that at whatever point we may be in our Christian life and experience, we are very likely to learn something new, to catch some alternative, to see things in a new way, to have a light-bulb shone on some aspect of our lives. 

The layout of the book is slightly unusual with every phrase on a new line.  Initially this seemed odd but actually it makes reading the book so much easier.  In some ways the layout is like parts of Isaiah with its poetic form, although Vanier’s book is not poetry.  I thoroughly recommend this and I, for one, shall be reading it again very soon.

Hugh Burgess, January, 2012

Vanier, Jean The Broken Body – Journey to Wholeness London, Darton, Longman and Todd (1988, 2009)