Tag Archives: Lanza del Vasto

Love awakened

In this is love: not that we have loved God,
but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10

Love is essentially God’s gift. Our love is a response to that gift and should reflect God’s love.

Today’s Gospel shows the love of God, Jesus full of compassion, feeling in the depths of his being for the people, without a shepherd. In his love he sought to feed them – but not without the cooperation of the disciples.



Thirty five years ago today, on January 5, 1981, Lanza del Vasto died. An Italian he studied philosophy but really didn’t find his meaning in life until after going to India and meeting with Gandhi and other holy men. His pilgrimage is related in Return to the Source.

Gandhi gave him the name “Shantidas,” the Servant of Peace. Later, he and his wife Chanterelle, with others founded the Community of the Ark, as a kind of Noah’s Ark in the midst of the violence of the times.

The community eschewed many modern conveniences and sought to live a nonviolent life, finally establishing a community in a beautiful and isolated valley in southwest France. They lived without electricity (except to grind their wheat), families and single people, with a regimen of work and prayer.

But they did not isolate themselves from the world. Lanza del Vasto and the community participated in many nonviolent campaigns in France. He also went to Rome in the early sixties to fast for peace; he was given an advanced copy of Pope John XXIII’s peace encyclical, Pacem in Terris.

When I visited the community in 1973, I participated in the daily life of the community, praying and working in the garden. But the last day and evening I spent with community at a demonstration in the nearby Larzac, where the people were fighting against the militarization of their lands.

Shantidas’ message was not an easy one, but I think it was based in his deep faith in Christ, a faith which opened itself to all faiths.

An example of this is noted in this short description of love from his Principles and Precepts of a Return to the Obvious:

Learn that virile charity that has severe words for those who flatter, serene words for those who fight you, warm words for the weary, strong for the suffering, clear for the blind, measured for the proud, and a bucketful of water and a stick for the sleepers.

Love should wake us up to feel with the compassion of God and be of service to God’s people.

it is not easy – as Dorothy Day reminds us by her citation from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov:

Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thin compared to love in dreams.

May we wake up and love!


The Servant of Peace

Lanza del Vasto was a disciple of Gandhi, founder of the Community of the Ark, in France. Gandhi gave him the name “Shantidas,” servant of peace. He died on January 5, 1981.

In the 1980s I ran across his tale of his spiritual journey,  Return to the Source, where he relates his trip to India. In his search he encountered Gandhi and eastern sources of thought. He returned to Europe a Christian, but with a nonviolence that opened him to all peoples and religions of the world.

He and his wife, Chanterelle, founded a Gandhian style community in France that embraced nonviolence, simplicity, use of simple means to live (avowing much technology and using almost no electricity.)

I visited L’Arche in France in 1973 at the end of a summer bicycle tour/pilgrimage throughout Europe. I was impressed by the community but it is so much of an alternative to the world – almost an interfaith activist Amish community – that it has never been large. But its influence has been great, particularly in some parts of Latin America. The Mexican who has mobilized the anti-violence campaign was influenced by L’Arche and Lanza del Vasto.

Lanza del Vasto’s writing are often quite esoteric, especially some of his scripture commentaries but I appreciate much of what I’d call his basic wisdom of the ages. A number of them can be found in his book of short sayings, Principles and Precepts of a Return to the Obvious. Here are a few examples.

“Learn that virile charity that has severe words for those who flatter, serene words for those who fight you, warm [words] for the weary, strong for the suffering, clear for the blind, measured for the proud, and a bucketful of water and a stick for the sleepers.”

“Science can lend itself to any use; the conscience cannot. Intelligence can lower itself to any scheme; wisdom cannot. Power can stoop to anything; self control cannot. Money can be put to all kinds of uses; honesty cannot. Courage can defend any cause; charity cannot. Power can be used to any purpose, but nonviolence or the Power of Justice can serve only Justice.”

“Whoever fasts becomes transparent.
Others become transparent to him.
Their suffering enters him and he is defenseless against it.
So take care to stop up your sense by eating well
if you don’t want to be devoured by charity.”