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Community And Growth

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This book is a recipe for successful living together. It is a series of starting points for reflection discovered through everyday life, through mistakes and set-backs, through inspiration, through moments of dissension as well as unity. To Vanier, living with others is an adventure whose end is interior liberation -- the freedom to love and be loved. The greatest of Vanier's books, the distilled essence of his life work and thought


First published October 1, 1979

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About the author

Jean Vanier

198 books161 followers
Jean Vanier was educated in England and Canada, entered the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, England in 1942. He went to sea in 1945 in the Royal Navy and in 1947 transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy. He resigned from the Royal Canadian Navy in 1950 while serving H.M.C.S. Magnificent. He then went to France to work in a students' community outside of Paris. He studied philosophy and theology and obtained a Doctorate from the Catholic Institute in Paris.

At various times in his life, Vanier has been a(n)

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5 stars
273 (55%)
4 stars
149 (30%)
3 stars
51 (10%)
2 stars
10 (2%)
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6 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 52 reviews
Profile Image for booklady.
2,235 reviews65 followers
August 3, 2017
This was required formation reading as a secular Carmelite. Having finished those minimums, I have continued to enjoy referring to this book for meditations on living in community with others, which is what this book is all about. It can be helpful for group or personal reflection. Its honesty, depth and yet straightforward simplicity are refreshing. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Peter.
341 reviews13 followers
December 17, 2011

Every Christian should read this!
A feast of hard won wisdom and outworked revelation.
Food for the soul, Spiritual meat, milk and honey
I want to live where this is practised!
Profile Image for Lisa Kentgen.
Author 3 books28 followers
March 17, 2018
I read this book for my research on modern models of community. Jean Vanier is a theologian and philosopher, and remarkable human being, from a Catholic tradition. As someone who has deepened spiritually through eastern contemplative traditions, I read this text in a way that asked the question of whether I could apply it to community without needing to invoke God or Jesus which is central to Vanier's faith. The answer for me was yes. I did not give it five stars because it was reliant on a traditional hierarchical structure of faith that I hope we can move beyond, even as it offered profound insights of a contemplative and mystical tradition that went far beyond it.

There are so many beautiful thoughts for reflection. For example, "It is always good for individuals, communities, and indeed nations, to remember that their present situation is the result of thousands of gestures of love or hate that came before. This obliges us to remember that the community of tomorrow is being born of our fidelity to the present." This will serve as a reminder for me to choose carefully how to respond to the anger I feel as I see intolerance and scapegoating blanketing the news and my culture.

Vanier is the founder of L'Arche communities and if this model were to spread in the world, what a boon it would be for humanity.
Profile Image for Mitch Vanyo.
25 reviews
August 7, 2022
After hearing about the horrible and inexcusable things Jean Vanier did while in his community, I had low expectations for this book. I still wanted to read it though, believing that it could contain some interesting or helpful thoughts despite his actions, and I'm glad I did. It took me some time to get used to the meandering, contemplative style, but once I did, I found it to be a collection of many perceptive and compelling ideas on community life. I do remember being concerned by a few paragraphs here and there about our own dark secrets that we have to bear ourselves and other similar things. By and large, the principles and examples he shares are interesting and thought-provoking. He (understandably) focuses on his own community with disabled people and non-Christians, so the dynamics don't entirely seem to translate to my own experiences. Still, I have been encouraged and challenged by this book to pursue being a community that celebrates together, welcomes others in, includes the needy and broken, and participates in the Kingdom of God in our daily living.
Profile Image for The other John.
678 reviews11 followers
March 31, 2008
This is one of the best books on my shelf. Jean Vanier has lived in the L'Arche community for a number of years and Community and Growth talks about the challenges and blessings of living in community. And while many people don't live communally, it offers insight in basic human relationships. I decided to reread it as I wrestled with some issues we've been having at our church. It offered some comfort, but also pointed out places where I had fallen short in being a good neighbor and member of the congregation. Somehow I gotta respect a book that tells me what I need to hear rather than just what I want to hear.
Profile Image for Carol.
4 reviews
August 13, 2012
Community and Growth by Jean Vanier is one of the best books I have read relating to living in a spiritual community in today's world. There were so many passages I underlined as significant. One of the most challenging for many may be his criticism of the over use of television in a community. Since this is an older book it was written well before the age of texting and I Phones, Smart Phones, I Pads, etc. We have so many more temptations to draw us away from being present to the ones with whom we live in community.

I do not have time to do an in-depth review of the book, but I would definitely recommend it to those interested in living a life-giving spiritual community.
Profile Image for IAO131.
Author 7 books63 followers
June 25, 2015
Many interesting thoughts on building community. The last 1/3 of the book was basically restating the same ideas from the first half or so. Switch out Christian for Thelemic, Christ for Horus/your HGA, and skip over the occasional we're-not-worthy attitude, and you'll undoubtedly find things applicable to OTO and other religious organizations.
Profile Image for Lorena.
5 reviews1 follower
August 12, 2010
A beautiful book to experience and grow with. I don't want to return my copy to the library because it would be great to reference it in the future!
Profile Image for Fede Boccacci.
239 reviews14 followers
November 17, 2022
Un libro que releo constantemente desde el año 2014. A pesar de los hechos tristísimos de los que fue acusado el autor, el libro sigue siendo una joya para el trabajo de la vida en comunidad.
281 reviews13 followers
July 1, 2015
Community And Growth by Jean Vanier (Shorter Book Reaction)

Our world needs a rekindled sense of community. We sense it; we feel the isolation and our isolating habits and we groan for something more.

Vanier sensed this many years ago when he wrote the original version of *Community and Growth* (1979). His wise words carry just as much wisdom for today as they did thirty years ago.

“The essence of community,” Vanier wrote, “is a sense of belonging.” (p.16) “It is a place where people are earthed and find their identity.” (p.13) Discovering and cultivating community is coming to find “my people” and our common call together.

This happens through the practice of embracing one another, brokenness and all, and practicing forgiveness. “A community comes about when people are no longer hiding from one another, no longer pretending or proving their value to another.” (p. 24) “When we accept that we have weaknesses and flaws, that we have sinned against God and against our brothers and sisters, but that we are forgiven and can grow towards inner freedom and truer love, then we can accept the weaknesses and flaws of others.” (p.35)

Vanier also adds: “Too many people come into community to find something, to belong to a dynamic group, to discover a life which approaches the ideal. If we come into community without knowing that the reason we come is to learn to forgive and be forgiven seven times seventy-seven times, we will soon be disappointed.” (p.37)

Rather than finding a place that hides our inner struggles, we discover in true and formative community that God is weaving us together, immersing us in one another's brokenness so that we become practiced in forgiving an nurturing those who are experiencing such brokenness; this leads us to practice the same thing in the world around us. This is our practice of imitating Christ's incarnation, his plunge into our broken world.

Vanier's book continues as a wise and friendly guide that can help us discern how to nurture such community with the people God has placed us with.

An example: the chapter, “Walking Toward the Covenant” caused me to wonder how we can nourish people toward a covenant life in the church, a true sharing of all our life together so we eventually see the fruit from that sharing. And: How can we evaluate our life together based on that cultivation of fruit instead of attendance, budgets, or a sense of how impressive our programming has become?

The chapter titled “Mission” contains some of the most freeing and powerful language on mission I've read. Vanier wrote these powerful lines:

“[Communities will seek] to pray and to be present in a special way to the smallest and the weakest within their community or outside it.” (p.94)

“People who gather together to live the presence of Jesus among people in distress are therefore called not just to do things for them, or to see them as objects of charity, but rather to receive them as a source of life and of communion.” (p.95)

“The cry for love and communion and for recognition that arises from the hearts of people in need reveals the fountain of love in us and our capacity to give life. At the same time, it can reveal our hardness of heart and our fears….The cry of the poor is threatening to the rich person within us. We are sometimes prepared to give money and a little time, but we are frightened to give our hearts, to enter into a personal relationship of love and communion with them. For if we do so, we shall have to die to all our selfishness and to all the hardness of our heart.” (p.98)

Within the collection of wonderful quotes, I began to wonder, “How do I nurture this? What steps to I need to take to help people step into this kind of life together?”

I discovered as I finished Community and Growth that it may have been Vanier's intent to leave me with many questions; I discovered that Vanier had not written a mathematical manual for me or anyone else to follow in rote but instead, he was guiding me to see and anticipate something yet to come, something which I must participate in the construction of alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is the beauty of the book: my questions will propel me (and your questions you) into prayerful discernment with the communities we've been planted in by God. Our prayer and discernment will be met, I'm sure, with God's unique guidance for us in our unique locations and with our unique people. The questions that Vanier's writing has inspired will help me, and you, become aware of what to cultivate and aware of what direction we must follow.

May our journeys be blessed!
Profile Image for Glen Grunau.
248 reviews14 followers
October 19, 2014
Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche community for the mentally handicapped and their helpers, has written a masterpiece on community. In 1986 Henri Nouwen left Harvard University to join one of these Christian communities of ‘L’Arche’ just outside of Toronto. He lived in this community until his death in 1996. Henri Nouwen is one of my favourite spiritual writers. His humility in his suffering has been of great encouragement to me. Henri's life in this community undoubtedly had a profound influence on his spiritual vision and writings.

I cannot recall ever reading a better book on community. Knowing the substantial direct and indirect influence that Vanier must have had on Henri Nouwen, for me only added to the credibility of this book. I soon discovered that this is no academic treatise based on the latest research in leadership and community development. This is a journal of love and wisdom born from the crucible of living amidst those who are poor and suffering . . . . The "least of these" that Jesus reminded us are his face in our world. It is a wholesome mix of practical bits of wisdom learned from everyday life in community and a deep exploration of the contemplative elements of community.

I have to confess that I was deeply challenged by Vanier's invitation to live and flourish in community. I struggle to know what this means for me at present without a church community and more dependent than I would like on my contemplative dispersed community in which regular communication is often so limited by the barriers of geographical distance. But I am reminded that community exists wherever encounters with other human beings occur . . . at my office of employment and at home with my wife.

This book served as a wealthy resource for an abundance of quotes (see below). I will let the many quotes speak for themselves for how this book impacted me. But I would like to conclude with Vanier's important caveat to fulfilment in community - which serves as the conclusion to his book and is so representative of the balance that is consistently maintained throughout his book:

"This book has been about community . . . But when all is said and done, each of us, and in the deepest part of our self, has to learn to accept our own essential solitude.

In each of our hearts, there is a wound - the wound of our own loneliness, which hurts at moments of setback and can be even more painful at the time of our death. Death is a passage which cannot be made in community. It has to be made completely alone. And all suffering, sadness and depression is a foretaste of that death, a manifestation of our deep wound which is part of the human condition. . . . We can experience moments of communion and love, of prayer and ecstasy - but they are only moments. We quickly find ourselves back in the incompleteness which is the result of our immortality and limitations and those of others. . .

Even the most beautiful community can never heal the wound of loneliness that we carry. . . . Those who enter marriage believing that it will slake their thirst for communion and heal their wound will not find happiness. In the same way, those who enter community hoping that it will totally fulfil and heal them, will be disappointed. We will only find the true meaning of marriage or community when we have understood and accepted our wound. It is only when we stand up, with all our failings and sufferings, and try to support others rather than withdraw into ourselves, that we can fully live the life of marriage or community. It is only when we stop seeing others as a refuge that we will become, despite our wound, a source of life and comfort. It is only then that we will discover peace".
Profile Image for Pat Loughery.
297 reviews33 followers
May 20, 2009
This booki belongs alongside Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Life Together" on the bookshelf of anybody who's pursuing Christian community.

Vanier describes his experiences with community as a leader of L'Arche, a global network of intentional communities for people with develomental disabilities. The wisdom in this book is true, real and powerful.

Definitely a book to read over and over again.

Following is the 1-page book summary paper I wrote for my doctoral class in Rhythms of Living:

Community and Growth
by Jean Vanier
Paulist (1989)

Description of the Book
Community and Growth is Jean Vanier’s reflection on spiritual growth in intentional communities, and is written from his experience with L’Arche communities for developmentally handicapped people.

In the author’s words, Community and Growth “tries to clarify the conditions which are necessary to life in community. It is no thesis or treatise. It is made up of a series of starting-points for reflection, which I have discovered not through books, but through everyday life, through my mistakes, my set-backs and my personal failings, through the inspiration of God and my brothers and sisters, and through the moments of unity between us as well as the tension and suffering. Life in community is painful but it is also a marvelous adventure and a source of life.” (p. 12)

Interpretation of the Book
Vanier’s book is organized into eleven sections, each with a topical focus. Within each section there are 10-15 short topics, and each topic includes a smaller number of extended thoughts from a few sentences to a few paragraph. The effect is that of a meditation on community.

Vanier provokes deep thought by telling stories from his experience, from his historical study on monastic Christianity and from his social context. Although it would be difficult to outline Vanier’s thoughts as progressively moving toward a conclusion, the result is similar to holding a diamond in front of the light and rotating it to see different ways in which it shines and reflects the light.

The great strength of Community and Growth is that it is written from the field, not from the school. It stands next to Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a classic text on spiritual community, both for its lofty vision and for its realistic portrayal of day-to-day life.

I suggest that anybody interested in spiritual community read this book; in particular, all who live within or wish to live in intentional communities would be well served by reading this book and discussing their way through it with others in community. I suspect that it would give words to the normal challenges of community life.
Profile Image for Jacob Hudgins.
Author 5 books9 followers
January 31, 2022
An extended meditation on community from the founder of the l’Arche community.

Many of these thoughts translate well to the general idea of the local church, although Vanier is focused on monastic and commune-style communities. I was struck by his description of the process of adjustment to community: first, the community seems perfect. Then there is a letdown, and we can only see others’ faults (everyone here is a hypocrite/intolerant/annoying/unspiritual). If we can survive this, we get to covenant, where we recognize that people are all a mixture of good and bad, the community is neither heaven nor hell, etc. Only then do we become rooted.

His vision of community as a place where we face our own weaknesses and learn to accept those of others was also helpful.

I didn’t care for: his bullet-point style made the book feel interminable and constantly jumping from topic to topic. Many of his catholic assertions (and general “spirituality” observations) were seriously off base. I was also disappointed to hear that he was guilty of sexual abuse in some of these communities.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
751 reviews16 followers
April 9, 2023
The quotes I am gleaning from this book are 5-star quality, but the primary focus of the work as a whole is on the ins and outs of establishing a residential community, a topic found neither on my to-do list or my crazy bucket list. I don't know many who would find the full read worthwhile, though if you can find focused excerpts I would highly recommend them. Vanier was brilliant, compassionate, prophetic, and the founder of the network of communities where Henri Nouwen found his deepest since of vocation.
36 reviews
December 2, 2022
Un libro molto intenso e interessante, sempre attuale. Le riflessioni sulla comunità possono essere quaai integralmente riportate in ogni esperienza di comunità ceistiana, a partire dalle parrocchie.
Unica nita stonata è l'ormai nota biografia dell'autore, accusato dalla stessa comunità da lui creata si aver abusato di più persone. Per godersi questo testo bisogna dimenticare tutto questo.
319 reviews2 followers
December 11, 2017
I've read, and re-read parts, of this over a long period, which I think is the best way to use it. I'll return to it again - very thought provoking on how we see our communities and our own place in them, and ways of living in community.
Profile Image for Cathy.
535 reviews9 followers
February 15, 2019
Profile Image for Thomas Christianson.
Author 4 books11 followers
February 3, 2020
One of the best books I've ever. His voice is prophetic, and we should have listened; but it's not too late to start.
Profile Image for Sean Post.
Author 5 books5 followers
October 30, 2014
Vanier has not written this book so much as he has lived it. Robert Clinton describes a stage that some Christian leaders are privileged to experienced called: afterglow. One gets the sense that "Community and Growth" is an afterglow-like celebration of Vanier's ministry at L'Arche.

The book has been translated from French but that is only obvious at a few rare points. At points the author seems to ramble a bit which can wear on the reader. But he states up front that these are "reflections". What is beautifully apparent is that this is not a book of theories about community. Rather, it is the overflow of a life that has become a seamless tapestry of theory and practice. I doubt that I will find another resource on community to match this one. It is a go-to collection of meditations - even more so for those who live and lead short-term communities like those Vanier describes.
Profile Image for Charlène.
318 reviews2 followers
December 24, 2014


Que vous dire de plus ? Je tourne certainement en rond depuis un petit bout de temps, difficile de donner un avis sur un livre comme celui-ci, qui n’est pas témoignage, mais qui en remplit quelque part un peu la fonction, ou un autre genre… Jean Vanier célèbre quelque part une partie de notre humanité, profonde et tellement belle, à travers ce livre que beaucoup devraient lire pour tout ce qu’on peut en tirer et en apprendre. À feuilleter peut-être plus qu’à lire d’une traite (même si c’est aussi très bon ainsi), La communauté, lieu du pardon et de la fête pourrait vous donner envie à votre tour de changer votre quotidien, petit à petit, pour y intégrer cette vision de communauté. Pas de note pour moi, mais… un immense merci à cet homme pour ce qu’il a écrit et ce qu’il fait.
Profile Image for Jaret.
56 reviews6 followers
November 23, 2012
Warning, if you attempt to read this book with no experience in an intentional community, it may come off as overly romantic, scattered, and made up of nice short soundbites without any real depth. Those were my thoughts when I started the book. I eventually put it down for about a year. Fastforward to living in community for almost a year and a half and I found myself "getting it." The anecdotes Vanier used and the lessons he attempts to teach all made a lot more sense, because I had my own experiences to relate them to. They were out of the "nice sounding but theoretical" world and into the "messy but beautiful" real world. Now I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
55 reviews2 followers
November 6, 2007
Having been recently blessed with the opportunity to spend some time with Jean Vanier (blessed, I stress), I'm still kind of basking in the awe of his Jean Vanier-ness. This is a man of overwhelming humility, kindness, and grace. A very human holy man. This book is, in many ways, targeting a very specific audience of people trying to live in some kind of intentional community and he aims to share his own experiences of living in the l'Arche Community. That said, it has something to say about just being alive that is for all who are interested in that subject.
Profile Image for Joy Matteson.
596 reviews54 followers
April 15, 2013
Tired of monotonous and lonely suburbia? Ready to live together with like-minded people who have similar goals and interests? Love the idea of being accountable to one another in Christ? Then pick up Jean Vanier's classic novel, "Community and Growth", which gives practical advice and wisdom about what it means to live and grow in real, pick-up-your-shoes-then-let's-pray-together community. My favorite thought of his from this book is his articulation of Christ's suffering and our need to suffer with him, and yet, in Christ-like community, therein lies the resurrection.
Profile Image for James Millikan SJ.
187 reviews22 followers
April 16, 2022
Vanier’a classic text on the conditions for the possibility of true community. Through short and accessible reflections on honesty, acceptance, and celebration, Vanier points the way forward towards steady and sustainable growth in common life.

While most frequently applied to L'Arche communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live tother in mutual support and learning, Community and Growth is broadly applicable to schools, families, businesses, and service organizations.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Carson.
2 reviews5 followers
November 14, 2012
In our world in the global north we are often distracted from the fact that we live in community.
When I lived in Calgary I volunteered with the L'Arche movement founded by Jean Vanier. This book tells the story of Vanier's spirituality and ways people can live together and support one another, finding love, happiness and mutual support while in the process living in as Christlike a manner as possible.
The book is an inspiration to those interested in living in community.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
Author 1 book132 followers
July 28, 2014
I feel richer for having met Jean Vanier through his writing. Definitely a kind, wise, gentle man. And there are some very interesting things in here.

However, I'm not sure that I agree with his core idea— that most people would do better to live in community— and I'm rather iffy about his assumption that all mental issues/distress are caused by imperfect parenting. Both aspects are rather undermined by my life experience. So. Anyways.
51 reviews3 followers
February 14, 2009
Interesting book about living harmoniously in community (in a commune). Vanier shares some fascinating insights into human behavior and helps one analyse relationship to the Savior. I would recommend this book for any Christian contemplating living in a closed community, such as an abbot, nunnery, commune, Hutterite group. ***
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