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The Power Of Vulnerability

Nothing leaves us more vulnerable than revealing our own story or speaking up about our ideas since these are at risk of being rejected, being criticized and we, of stepping into the unknown. In fact, the term “vulnerability” often relates to someone or something “weak” or “injured” that calls for special care, solidarity and protection. The question may be raised whether human “vulnerability” has any positive value or power.

It was encouraging to hear Professor Brown sharing her experience of having a breakdown when doing her research on vulnerability. She reflected on the pressure of living in a culture where we are more concerned with effective outcomes than with accepting the vulnerable part of human existence that has made us truly ourselves. These attitudes lead us to feel unwilling to accept sincerely our struggles and let people know the truth about us. Professor Brown stated that people who fully embrace vulnerability are those who believe that they are worthy, who dare to invest in relationships, who are willing to say “I love you” first, and dare to do something with no guarantee.

To embrace vulnerability is to let oneself be deeply seen, to love with one’s whole heart, to practice gratitude with joy. Vulnerability therefore opens the door to solidarity, change, creativity, innovation and connection that change one’s way of living and loving. In fact, fear of sharing our vulnerability could gradually isolate us from community: “I am not worthy of connection.” We numb vulnerability when we numb our joy, happiness, gratitude. We numb our vulnerability when pretending to be someone else, when not attending to the whole that we are…with both gifts and wounds. This happens the very moment we state, for instance: “I am right, you are wrong,” when we deny uncertainty.

Presenting a conference on “thinking outside the box”, Yossi Ghisberg told a very touching story. He had gone to the Amazon with a group of people. When he got lost in the thick jungle, torrential rain began to fall, with thunder and piercing winds; mud started taking over the road. He recalled that this happened at the end of the day when he already felt too exhausted to fight for life in the cold mud. He could not walk anymore and decided to give up. At the very moment of closing his eyes to let death take over his life, he heard the voice of a young woman stuck in the mud right next to him, calling for help. From out of that terrible dark and cold night, he leaped through the thick mud and pulled the woman out; he took her on his shoulders and ran into a big cave where they could take refuge. He whispered in her ears: “Don’t give up! We still have a chance to live…” It was terribly cold that night, so he asked her to get closer to him so that they could share warmth from their bodies. To his surprise, the woman had disappeared. She was nowhere to be seen.

Telling his story, Yossi Ghisberg asserted that it was a true experience; yet he still wondered why he had heard a vulnerable voice asking for his help in the desperate moment when he wanted to give up his life. Was this fine achievement really the result of a call from a very weak creature, a woman in a dying situation? His power seems to have been activated in the last moment of his life in which he still could help someone. He came to realize that true power is revealed when we give ourselves to others. He concluded that it was in the very moment of extreme adversity that he was able to exercise the best potential he had. At that very moment, he got out of his boxes (the box of office, of security, of his way of thinking, of structure). He felt so free and happy from the bottom of his heart.

Saint Paul fearlessly shared his experience: “I am content with weakness…for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” since “Grace is sufficient for me, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2Cr. 12: 9-10). The power of vulnerability shines through the paradox of the Cross, as I came to realize. I sincerely ask God to grant me grace and courage, so that I can embrace my vulnerability with gratitude.

Lent 2013

Maria Thanh -Tu, Fmm.