Wednesday, August 15, 2018

a spirituality of l'arche - part five

NOTE: I thought I would finish this series up earlier this week but on my way to some commitments, as John Lennon used to say, life happened. So here is what will be the part five of six. Thanks for your interest and support.

"Thinking can only take you so far," writes Karen Armstrong. "Action, behavior, especially compassionate behavior, is more important than thinking. By constantly exercising compassion, the golden rule, you enter a different state of consciousness. This, rather than (only engaging the mind), will get you to enlightenment." Such is the essence of mystical wisdom. Douglas John Hall, a Reformed theologian from McGill University in Montreal, wrote that at the core of every spiritual tradition is a version of this truth: we don't think our way into a new way of living, we live our way into a new way of thinking. In the realm of Christianity, we put it like this:

Jesus says in his society there is a new way for people to live: you show wisdom by trusting people; you handle leadership by serving; you handle offenders by forgiving; you handle money by sharing; you handle enemies by loving; and you handle violence by suffering. In fact, you have a new attitude toward everything and everybody. Toward nature, toward the state in which you happen to live, toward women (and men), toward the wounded and toward every single thing that has been created. Because this is the Jesus society and  you repent not by feeling bad, but by thinking different. (Rudy Wiebe, The Blue Mountains of China, pp. 215-16)

And the way to think differently is to practice living in a new way. In the 12 Step movement, we say: if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. So... fake it (practice and do it) till you make it! This is what I experience every time I visit my friends at L'Arche Ottawa. They are living a new way. The way of the tender and open heart. We know full well that we will stumble and fall at least as often as we run, walk or dance. But the spirituality of L'Arche teaches that even our brokenness can become a blessing in pursuit of compassion. Especially our brokenness. This is how we become more like Jesus - failing and then learning from our mistakes by opening our hearts to God when we are weak - is how we "pick up our lives and walk." 

In the Eastern Church, this is called divinization (or theosis). The first century church father, St. Ireneaus, taught that the One who is Holy created us in the beginning as incomplete on purpose. As we travel through life, inevitably we will make mistakes; we will hurt one another and ourselves, encounter sin (living in separation from God), and lose our sense of purpose. In the West, St. Augustine and then the Protestant Reformers like Calvin and Luther emphasized these failings as willful acts of disobedience and human depravity. St. Ireneaus, however, believed that even these failings were part of God's desire to lead us onto the path of compassion. By naming our wounds, confessing them, accepting forgiveness in grace, and then wrestling with our brokenness in community as well as in our hearts, our lives could be healed incrementally. We can start to live more and more in the presence and spirit of Jesus. The practice of divinization insists that as the Word of God became flesh once in Jesus, so can the Word of God already within us ripen and mature. Over time, our life-long creation into the image of God takes shape and form through our actions, habits, thoughts and words. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology puts it like this:

Deification (Greek theosis or divinization) is for Orthodoxy the goal of
every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is 'made in the image and likeness of God.'. . . It is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become god-like by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages of both OT and NT (e.g. Ps. 82 (81).6; II Peter 1.4), and it is essentially the teaching both of St Paul, though he tends to use the language of filial adoption (cf. Rom. 8.9—17; Gal. 4.5—7), and the Fourth Gospel (cf. 17.21—23).

The language of II Peter is taken up by St Irenaeus, in his famous phrase, 'if the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods' (Adv. Haer V, Pref.), and becomes the standard in Greek theology. In the fourth century, St. Athanasius repeats Irenaeus almost word for word, and in the fifth century St Cyril of Alexandria says that we shall become sons 'by participation' (Greek methexis). Deification is the central idea in the spirituality of St. Maximus the Confessor, for whom the doctrine is the corollary of the Incarnation: 'Deification, briefly, is the encompassing and fulfillment of all times and ages,' . . . and St. Symeon the New Theologian at the end of the tenth century writes, 'He who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his friends, face to face.' 
(see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apotheosis)

Jean Vanier uses different words than the Eastern Church, but clearly he speaks the same language: our spiritual transformation takes place through practice. - especially learning the wisdom of our wounds. Our bodies are key to embracing "the mystery of trusting a God who walks with us." In this closing reflection, I will consider the two final chapters of The Heart of L'Arche: A Spirituality for Every Day.

In his primer of spiritual formation within the L'Arche community, Jean Vanier writes: "I realized that to become a friend to people in need, I needed to pray and work on myself with the help of the Holy Spirit, and with good human and spiritual accompaniment - people who would walk with me and share my life. I had to learn to accept myself without illusions. I had to discover how to forgive and discover my own need for forgiveness. Little by little, the weak and the powerless helped me to accept my own poverty, become more fully human and grow in inner wholeness." (p. 35)

Vanier offers three touchstones for evaluating our fidelity to the call of L'Arche and God's invitation to become more fully human: 1) listening and responding with love to the cries of the disabled and wounded who disturb us; 2) constantly caring for the total health of our community; and 3) trusting Providence.


People with intellectual disabilities know how to disturb us.  They call us to pay attention and be real. We must quit going through the motions of paying attention and become fully present. They call us out when they hurt or are in need. We must make connections so that we can use our time and our resources for love rather than merely our own comfort. And they upset our bourgeois sense of propriety. 

Jesus called his disciples to humility and littleness. He called them to become like small children, not to seek to prove that they were in the right and that others were wrong. He called them to be with the poor, those without a voice, and through them to live in communion with him, just as he lived in communion with the Father. Pride destroys community; humility helps to build it up. Humility means seeing in the beauty of others the gift of God; it means recognizing the darkness in ourselves, the self-satisfaction behind our good deeds, our longing to make first place. It means recognizing that we need Jesus to free us from this pride that is inside us all. (p. 62)

Henri Nouwen once wrote - and later learned from the inside out - that "Nobody in life escapes being wounded."

We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not 'How can we hide our wounds?' so we don't have to be embarrassed but 'How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?' When our wounds cease to be a source of shame and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers. (With Open Hands)

They also disturb us by challenging us not to give up the prophetic mission of L'Arche. To capitulate to an institutional model that offers salaries but does not ask for fidelity of the heart would disconnect us from the call of God. This is a counter-cultural fact. Staying poor, Vanier argues, keeps us dependent upon the Father's will, the disturbing presence of those with intellectual disabilities as well as the well-being of the whole community.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!  And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12: 22-32)

The poverty of L'Arche is essential so that we cast all our trust upon God. Vanier concludes chapter four like this:

At the beginning (of L'Arche), I thought we were short of assistants because L'Arche was a young, little known organization. Now I believe that the shortage of assistants is an essential part of our life. It worries and wearies us, built forces us to be open and constantly welcoming. A community that welcomes poor people will always be poor. We would love to have plenty of perfect assistants. We would love to be in a position of security. But it will never be like that. Our weakness is like that of the people of Israel to live and survive, we need not only love and faith, but also a kind of poverty that keeps us dependent upon God. Only be being like children, dependent on the Father's love, waiting for God to give us all we need, will we be able to carry on with our journey. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. (p. 73)

The disturbing cries of the wounded among us keep us connected to the mystery of the God who walk among us.

Monday, August 13, 2018

cynicism and tenderness...

Last week an acquaintance replied to an upbeat posting from me with what I took as a cynical and dismissive barb. I am reasonably able to compartmentalize and let go of such things when I am well-rested and spiritually grounded. And most of the time I tune-out mocking or sarcastic commentary. Life is too short. The best thing is to follow the words of Jesus - shake the dust off your sandals and keep moving - but something about this got under my skin. Not personally. No, it was more like these dismissive words negated what I experience as hopeful. Simplistic or dismissive commentary often suggests a shadow conversation is about to emerge. 

I hear shadow talk a lot these days - harsh and suspicious words - that regularly denigrates faith, hope and love. My heart resonates with Nick Lowe who wrote, "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?" some forty years ago. But the quest for common ground is clearly not at the core of our culture. And those advocating for compassion and tenderness in this dog eat dog era are labeled hopelessly naive and/or socially irrelevant. 

Why expect anything better in a culture obsessed with possession and addicted to bottom line metrics? If people, time and the resources of creation are merely commodities to be used only for personal gratification, no wonder we become callous. Self-centered. Men, women and children without eyes to see or ears to hear the deeper purpose of existence. When consumption is our fundamental goal, it should not come as a shock that individuals often become shallow and depressed while our shared common life reeks of gloom. If the way we live and the love we share has become unmoored from ethical virtues, then greed and cynicism makes sense. 
While I was at L'Arche Ottawa recently, we spoke of this dilemma: there are now three generations of adults who have matured without any deep consideration of religious wisdom. I get why. I have been alienated from the corruption, boredom and anemic values of Western Christianity, too. And there is much to be said for those attempting what Thomas Moore describes as the "invention of our own religions." 

What I see missing from smörgåsbord spirituality that picks and chooses values, texts and prayers that are personally appealing is any deep connection to the insights of tradition. Specifically, the time-tested language that interprets both ethics and how the mystical connection between humans and the holy is encountered. Most handmade religion is solipistic. It begins with an elevated sense of personal insight that is rarely dragged through the sands of human history. Without time, our spiritualities cannot have their rough edges worn down. Without time, we can't benefit from the experience of others. And without time, there is no chance of rediscovering the hard-won wisdom that has already been revealed. As Huston Smith, the father of comparative religion in the US, used to say: The written Scriptures of the world's religions are the distilled wisdom of humanity over generations. Why try to reinvent the wheel? Why act with hubris when humility is historically how human beings discover new meaning? Why work for a spirituality saturated with a consumerist world view?

Contemporary culture in the United States either ignores the intersection of spirit and flesh through cynicism or busyness, or, it constructs spiritualities that ignore sacrifice. Yes, yes, yes: the way sacrifice has been taught in Western Christianity has been deadly. In both Reformed and Catholic incarnations, we highlight human depravity. We fixate on sin. We are consumed with a fear of a punitive God. None of these obsessions, however, are reflected in Jesus who welcomes our brokenness, heals our wounds, invites us into community and encourages sharing humble compassion. Jesus shows us a quiet, small and tender alternative to the cynicism and fear of our age. Jesus emphasizes caring for both body and soul in small acts of gentleness. Henri Nouwen once put it like this:

The largest part of Jesus' life was hidden. Jesus lived with his parents in Nazareth, "under their authority" (Luke 2:51), and there "increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and with people" (Luke 2:52). When we think about Jesus we mostly think about his words and miracles, his passion, death, and resurrection, but we should never forget that before all of that Jesus lived a simple, hidden life in a small town, far away from all the great people, great cities, and great events. Jesus' hidden life is very important for our own spiritual journeys. If we want to follow Jesus by words and deeds in the service of his Kingdom, we must first of all strive to follow Jesus in his simple, unspectacular, and very ordinary hidden life.


One of the reasons I find myself so drawn to the presence and witness of L'Arche is that it acts like Jesus. Not perfectly, of course. And not without angst or anguish. But consistently and profoundly L'Arche teaches me how to live tenderly in the midst of cynicism. L'Arche also shows me that the cruel and crass words and acts of others begins in their own brokenness. This spiritual path notes that all of us are broken. Indeed, it is through our brokenness that we not only discover how we hurt others but how we can move towards greater love. It is slow, small and hard work. And that's what I love about it: L'Arche has helped show me the path of tender foolish love in a crass and cynical culture. In community I experience people who can be trusted. People eager to deepen love. People who ask for forgiveness. People who acknowledge their wounds and trust that God's love is greater. Jean Vanier puts it like this:

Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and their capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside of all the pain. To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: “You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.”

I have probably overstated my case for some. Others will likely think that my approach has been too tame. What I trust, however, is that small acts of communion and compassion make a difference to the world, to those whose lives we touch and to our own souls over time. We are not islands unto ourselves: we are sisters and brothers.



credits
1) https://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2016/april-13/bob-goff-loving-like-jesus.html
2) https://za.pinterest.com/pin/28921622586135305/

Monday, August 6, 2018

a spirituality of l'arche - part four,,,

NOTE: In my extended reflections on a spirituality of L'Arche it should be clear that I am searching for a clear synthesis based upon Jean Vanier's writing, additional written resources concerning L'Arche and my own experience. I know that there are others better suited for this task who have decades of first hand experience and know Vanier personally. I have only my study and a series of on again/off again encounters spread over the past two years. So there is a measure of fear and trembling in attempting this summary. At the same time, however, I have decades of practical experience in both spiritual formation and organizational renewal. These written reflections, therefore, are clearly modest. My hope is to bring heart and mind into harmony as a starting point for better practicing the unique spirituality of L'Arche. Any and all corrections and/or additions are always welcome.
+
The second longest chapter in Jean Vanier's primer re: living into the charism of L'Arche, The Heart of L'Arche: A Spirituality for Every Day, explores the mystery of community. He has spoken of this commitment as a "new form of family" guided by the life of Jesus and articulated by St. Paul. "The challenge of our communities," Vanier believes, "is to bring together in unity people who are talented and strong with people who are weak and have been marginalized." In the apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians, we find these words in chapter two:

(Jesus) is our peace. In his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us... that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace...
Breaking down barriers through sharing everyday life is one of the essential practices in the spirituality of L'Arche - especially the divisions that so regularly segregate our most vulnerable sisters and brothers to the periphery of the mainstream. "Through (our) daily life with those who are weak," Vanier writes, "Jesus enables us to participate in the communion that he enjoys with the Father. As we share the same table and become friends with people suffering from intellectual disabilities, people who have suffered marginalization, we achieve unity, reconciliation and peace." The blessings and trials of sharing ordinary life - eating, washing, laughing, weeping, listening, missing the mark, sharing forgiveness, cleaning, going to work, taking vacations, participating n meetings, and even sleeping - is how L'Arche practices dismantling the deep divisions. Kathleen Norris speaks of similar practices as the quotidian mysteries: cooking, cleaning, etc. Those who fully engage in these practice know - or soon learn - that there is nothing romantic, automatically redemptive or Utopian about life in this type of community.

It is not easy... to live day after day with someone... who is full of anger, darkness and depression. People who have been rejected tend to close in on themselves and refuse to communicate. Seeing themselves only as victims, they lock themselves up in their own pain and in a world o dreams. When they come to L'Arche, they are invited to open up, related to others and let down their barriers of protection. This is not an easy transition. At first, the poor will resist any change; they will cry out in their anguish, their anger, and their violence... Living with the poor (in community) is not a utopia... (And so we all) need to struggle against everything that keeps them close in on themselves to help them open up and not be governed by fear and depression. These struggles are painful. We need the support of community life as well as the help of professionals. (pp. 45-46)

Vanier is equally clear that just as core members face the challenge and messiness of learning to live in openly in community, so too the assistants and others without intellectual disabilities. In an anthology edited by Hans Reinders, The Paradox of Disability, the author of the fictionalized history of L'Arche tells us that "due to discontent with the liberal individualism of our time, we often hear 'community' spoken of in endearing terms - at least in the Western world - as a place where people positively experience the social nature of being human." He then shatters this naive illusion stating: "the truth of the matter is quite different."

More than anything else,"community" marks the experience of the brokenness of human beings. Very often L'Arche attracts people who want a better place. But those who have spent years of their lives in one of its communities know better. As Vanier has explained many times, there is no way of doing something for other people if you do not first learn how to receive whatever gift they have to offer, which presupposes your willingness to accept that you are also a person in need. The L'Arche community is about learning to receive other people as God's gift. (p. 5)

There is a reason why the etymology of the English word humility is connected to both hummus (the organic decay of garbage that fertilizes the earth) and humiliation (the abasement of our pride.) We are unable to live as equals in the world until we know, experience, and honor our own brokenness. "To look at other people's limitations without seeing our own is a gesture of power; to acknowledge our own wounds in the face of theirs is a gesture of community - and in this regard L'Arche is an extraordinary place of learning," Reinders reminds us.

Contrary to a frequent misreading of its experience, L'Arche has nothing to do with an ideal community that is shaped by morally exceptional people. Instead, it has everything to do with people learning to be with each other and be accepted as who and what they are. Thus understood, learning to live in L'Arche is not about following a pattern or a plan according to which the moral self must be shaped. Its gestures of community are about accepting brokenness and limitation in order to create the freedom of celebrating difference. (p. 6)

Community, therefore, becomes the place where we learn about our wounds as well as their potential for inflicting pain. "It is only when we touch the powers of destruction within (ourselves)" writes Vanier, "and begin to accept that they are there, but do not let ourselves be controlled or governed by them, that we can truly understand and accept others in their anguish - and help them to grow." This means that a L'Arche community is not fundamentally directed outwardly in the world. "At L'Arche, the main emphasis is on welcoming people, caring for them, working and living in community with people suffering from intellectual disabilities who form part of the community. This kind of life, lived in communion with people who are weak, is the source of healing and liberation." (The Heart of L'Arche, p. 53) Let me suggest three key practices that give shape and form to the mystery of community:

+ Descending into humility: Jean Vanier has said that practicing the mystery of community is like unto receiving a second calling. In our first calling, we seek to make a mark on the world. This calling is shaped by competition and pride. It is driven by living independently and protecting ourselves rather than opening our hearts in vulnerability. Fr. Richard Rohr believes that our first calling usually takes place during the first half of our lives: we strive to succeed, build a career and shape our world boldly. Our second calling, according to Vanier, is when we sense that this first calling is incomplete. Hollow. Having it all "our way" leaves us wanting more and opens us to a gradual letting go of pride and control.

It is not easy to enter into (this way of living) when competitiveness has been bred into us, when we have grown up to try to be the best, to get increasingly good results, to proves ourselves and to be admired. Often people develop this need to shine and be admired as a way of soothing anguish and lack of self-esteem. The urge to shine runs contrary to the spirit of cooperation and communion that is at the heart of community life. Entering into this way... involves real grief. No one is asked to give up his or her whole life or personal opinions, but everyone must be ready to listen to others, seek unity and not impose their way of looking at things. Community living implies cooperating with others and sharing decision-making with them. This means spending time in meetings that can seem long and demanding... (but this is how) we discover respect for others - especially the humblest. (p. 61)

Meetings, meals, shared tasks, and celebrations is where individuals learn how
to descend into humility. We try - we make mistakes - we own our failures - we ask for forgiveness - and slowly rebuild trust. We come to realize through these ups and downs that no one is perfect and that all miss the mark. Further, we start to know that none of us by ourselves is sufficient for the whole community. Everyone has different gifts that bring blessings to the Body, but no one is in possession of all the gift needed for unity and love. Daily living, therefore, becomes the school for descending into humility. "Humility means seeing in the beauty of others the gift of God; it means recognizing the dankness in ourselves, the self-satisfaction behind our good deeds, our longing to take first place. It mans recognizing that we need Jesus to free us from the pride that is inside all of us." There is grief in this school of descent. There is also forgiveness and joy. St. Paul once articulated our descent into humility as love in I Corinthians 13:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

+ Practicing love through small things:  The rhythm of life in a competitive and pride based society breeds dissatisfaction with small, ordinary events. L'Arche rejects the glitter of the world in favor of small acts of love shared over and again in ordinary life.  Vanier has wondered if our addiction to TV and the Internet has trained many of us to expect scattered thinking and superficial relationships. "So many) no longer know how to find joy in small things. A daily routine consisting of meals, washing, gardening and simple friendships seems too dull and unproductive." St. Paul grasped this in his day and expresses it in a tender challenge in Romans 12:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

At L'Arche this looks like: "cooking meals, spending time together at table, washing the dishes, doing the laundry and the housework, helping meetings to go smoothly, organizing the house so that is happy, welcoming place: thousands of little thing that all take time." I recall one night at Mountanview House at L'Arche Ottawa where a Mennonite volunteer prepared dinner. As we ate some of his special bread and shared a simple feast, there was laughter and openness. As the meal matured, we started asking one another about our countries of origin. This led to picture sharing. And a deeper sense of where we came from and what has shaped us. This sharing included core members, volunteers as well as assistants. It went on much later than anyone expected, but was such a blessing. The charism of the table teaches us that there is enough time for all that is real and loving. Vanier celebrates this saying, "All these small gestures can become gestures of love that help create a warm atmosphere in which the communion of hearts can grow. In this way, community life becomes a school of love." One of the reasons I continue to return to L'Arche Ottawa is a joy that is palpable whenever we break bread together.

(In this era) there is a great temptation to allow ourselves to be seduced by big things, riches, success, power, possessions and privileges. If we devoted all our energies to these things, it would be easy to forget about human beings, about the need to create places of love and real friendships. (p. 58)

+ Recovering hope:  I have served four congregations over the past 40 years (six including seminary internships.) During that time I came to know that in rich and poor communities everyone aches to be loved. Moreover, most of the loving people in each of those communities wanted something more solid than the promises of politicians or the lure of advertising. When Mother Theresa first visited the United States she told us: The number one disease that is killing the USA is not HIV/AIDS, or cancer, or even hunger. It is loneliness." Vanier puts it like this:

Our societies are becoming increasingly fragmented. The natural centers of friendship and community, such as parishes and villages, are breaking up. People go their own ways, perusing their own particular projects and pastimes... (In our pursuit of our own desires) may have lost confidence, not only in themselves, but in society and the human race. Wars, reports of corruption, greed and inequality all reinforce the idea that human beings are evil, that we live in a jungle where people must fight for themselves and where generosity and love are rarely found... We all need to recover trust and hope: to rediscover the fundamental beauty of the human heart and its capacity for love. (p. 59)

L'Arche does this in a variety of simple and quiet ways - the most obvious is by living in an integrated manner within the various neighborhoods the house their shared group homes. That is, each home seeks to be a tender, honest and good neighbor.  "Like all Christian communities, L'Arche communities want to witness to a belief in love, a belief that human beings can put aside their egoism and open themselves to others. This is their mission in society."
Just as a lamp must not be hidden under a bushel, but must shine for everyone in a house, so our communities must enable others to find hope and to live lives of love, sharing and rejoicing in the gift of life... This helps us (all) discover that the smallest thing we do for a brother or sister can in some way affect the world. It can be a path to peace. (p. 60)

There is no one size fits all solution for unity in quest for community. Respect, trust, love, humility, patience and forgiveness are essential. So is an awareness that while our differences are real, the lives of those "with intellectual disabilities - the heart of the community - bind us together. Through their thirst to be loved and accepted, through the depth of their trust flowing from their weakness, they bring people to oneness. They give our lives and our communities their fundamental meaning. This is accomplished through faith and trust in God, and through the love that flows from the heart of the Trinity. This flow of love open the heart in each one, giving them new strength to overcome selfishness and to work for unity, peace and reconciliation" (pp. 55-56)

Friday, August 3, 2018

the spirituality of l'arche - part three

In my days as a pastor, I often discovered two surprises: 1) many of the faithful did not know how to pray; and 2) these same dedicated servants rarely, if ever, spoke about their inner experiences with the holy. At first I was bewildered: how could this be true - even while at church - that no one talked about God's love and how it had touched their hearts? It wasn't as if my friends hadn't encountered the presence of the sacred in their lives. They had - many times over. Still, they had been trained to keep such things to themselves. In silence. 

So, while visiting in their homes, I took it upon myself to ask about the different ways they had experienced something of the Lord. And once given just a hint of encouragement, the stories came tumbling out. Eventually, we dedicated the first 20 minutes of every church meeting to listening to these stories. This led to a full year of reading, studying and discussing the way the Spirit of God had moved in our lives - and was moving in our congregation. We then put aside fretting about budgets, personnel, etc. at our administrative gatherings to listen for the still, small voice of the Lord in our midst. In time, we set out to teach one another how to pray, too: we explored quiet, contemplative prayer; structured and public liturgical prayer; using hymns as prayer prompts; and even extended times of quiet meditation.

In other words, we practiced spiritual formation. Once we owned that there was a gap in the maturation of our faith community, we could chart a course of correction. For just as there is a broad emotional and intellectual pattern for human development - see Erikson's nuanced and porous theory of psychosocial growth (https://www.simply psycholgy.org/Erik-Erikson. html) - so too are there stages of faith. Using Erikson's paradigm as well as the wisdom of Piaget and Kohlberg, James Fowler and others have suggested that faith development shares a comparable hierarchy of maturation. We start by mirroring what our families teach us, move into a season of mythical literalism, explore skepticism, etc. (https://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/youth/wholeness/workshop2/167602. shtml) To ripen beyond an adolescent rebellion or skepticism into a tender faith that honors doubt and ambiguity as well as grace and trust, requires training and encouragement.

There are a host of resources, spiritual paths and ways to practice nourishing our spiritual lives: the Ennegram is one, the Rule of Benedict another; Buddhist meditation, Centering Prayer, Quaker silence and Sufi dance are still others. In Jean Vanier's small book, The Heart of L'Arche: a Spirituality for Every Day, the founder of the L'Arche movement shares yet another set of practices designed to help us grow in faith, ripen in mature love, and rest within the small but real presence of God in community. He summarizes the spiritual disciplines of L'Arche as a series of mysteries: the mysteries of Jesus, the mystery of the poor, the mystery of community, the mystery of a God who walks among us, and the mystery of the church. (NOTE: please see my previous posts re: the meaning of mystery @ https://rj-whenlovecomestotown.blogspot.com/ 2018/ 08/a-spirituality-of-larche-part-two.html

Chapter two of Vanier's spirituality of L'Arche, "The mystery of the poor," is the longest. In it he shares both theological insights as well as practices to guide us in our journey into tenderness. After introducing the counter-cultural nature of this spirituality, I see four essential components of living into the mystery of the poor: 1) downward mobility; 2) a linkage of rich and poor; 3) personal vulnerability; and 4) trusting the hidden presence of God.

The mystery of the poor:  "Over the years," Vanier writes, "I have come to realize the extent to which sharing our lives with people suffering from intellectual disabilities is counter-cultural. Soon after L'Arche began, I came across the passage in Luke's gospel in which Jesus says:

When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers and sisters or relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return and you would be repaid. Rather, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay..." (Luke 14: 12-14)

Here is the heart of L'Arche: a new form of family. "It is a way of life absolutely opposed to the values of a competitive, hierarchical society in which the weak are pushed aside." Vanier confesses that he had once thrived in that competitive world. "I wanted to be on top... and saw little value in those who were on the bottom." Only after succeeding in traditional ways - rising through the ranks of the navy, completing a Ph.D. and teaching at the university level - did he ask, "Is that all there is? Why is my heart still so empty? Isn't there a deeper meaning to my life?" The introduction to chapter two, "a spirituality centered on the mystery of the poor," puts it like this. 
The two worlds that existed in the time of Jesus still exist today, in every country, city, town, and within every human heart. The rich are those who, believing they are self-sufficient, do not recognize their need for love and for others. They are the materially, culturally and even spiritually rich, who, self-satisfied, live in luxury, caught up in wealth, power and privilege. They have in abundance those things that fail to ever satisfy profoundly. Thus, ever in want, they constantly seek more, trapped in a vicious cycle of unrecognized dissatisfaction of the heart! Failing to recognize their own weakness, they look down on others, especially those who are different or weak. (p. 25)

He then notes that there are also countless people in our world who are marginalized. "They are the humiliated, living in poverty and misery... they are homeless, immigrants, unemployed, victims of abuse, the mentally ill, those who suffer with intellectual or physical disabilities, and the elderly who are lonely and neglected." The ministry of Jesus - and the mystery of the poor - is simple although upside down by traditional standards:

Jesus came to gather together in unity all the scattered children of God and give them fullness of life. He longs to put an end to hatred, to the preconceptions and fears that estrange individuals and groups. In this divided world he longs to create places of unity, reconciliation and peace, by inviting the rich to share and the poor to have hope. This is the mission of L'Arche... to dismantle the walls separating the weak from the strong, so that, together, they can recognize that they need each other and be united. This is the good news. (p. 26)

The four practices or spiritual disciplines of sharing the mystery of the poor are:

+ Downward mobility: This practice is an intentional opting-out of the race to win. Sometimes for a season, sometimes forever, individuals consciously choose to live into love rather than privilege. "Competitive, individualistic, materialistic societies detract from our humanity," Vanier notes. Small wonder that some parents have said, "It is such a waste that my son is in L'Arche; he could have done something really useful with his life." Modest stipends, shared meals, and life in community replaces the trajectory of traditional careers. "To live into this gift," Vanier continues, "we need spirit, an inspiration, and an inner force that urges us forward to grow in the love of all people in the human family." Like Jesus before us, some ask: "What does it profit a person to gain the whole world, but lose our soul?" (Matthew 16:26) The path of downward mobility is costly - it is the road less traveled - and often messy. At the same time there are glimpses of love, tons of laughter and tears, and a way of living that is rich in things not of this world.

To be a friend to the poor is demanding. They anchor us in the reality of pain; they make it impossible for us to escape into ideas or dreams. Their cry for solidarity obliges us to make choices:  deepen our spiritual lives, put love and a sense of responsibility at the heart of our daily lives (rather than success.) This choice transforms us. (p. 32)

+ Unity of rich and poor:  So much of our social organization is built upon utilitarianism: what can you do for me as quickly and as efficiently as possible? The commitment to linking rich and poor together demands a different relationship to time. Speed is no longer the prize. Utility is no longer the goal. Connecting in honesty supersedes everything else - a gift those of us who are rich must learn over and over again. For those who are poor live in the moment. Vanier writes: "I was once a man of action rather than a man who listened. In the navy I had colleagues, but no real friends. Opening ourselves to friendship means becoming vulnerable, taking off our masks and letting down our barriers so we can accept people just as they are, with all their beauty and gifts as well as all their weaknesses and inner wounds." When rich and poor embrace as equals formed in love we experience the blessings of heaven - if only for a moment. In this, rich and poor become united as solidarity reigns over competition - again, if only for a moment.

Loving involves letting others see my own poverty and giving them
space to love me... As I touched the fragility and pain of people with intellectual disabilities, and as their trust in me grew, new springs of tenderness welled up in me. I loved them and was happy with them. They awakened a part of my being that had been underdeveloped and dormant. Through them a new world began to open up for me, not the world of efficiency, competition, success and power, but the world of the heart, of vulnerability, communion and celebration. (p. 32)

+ Personal vulnerability: Tasting the promise of God's kingdom does not happen without a cost. Vanier interprets the spirituality of L'Arche through the lens of Christ's Cross: Jesus was not raised from death without suffering; nor was his resurrection on Easter Sunday possible without first wrestling with his conscience in the Garden, finding himself alone and abandoned as he faced the agony of the Cross, and trusting that God was greater than his emptiness. "If, at times, some people with disabilities awakened a new tenderness in me," he writes, "and it was a joy to be with them, at different moments others awakened my anger and my defensiveness.I was frightened that they might touch my vulnerability." Such is the paradox of this practice: to build trust and love with others demands coming fact to face with our own brokenness.  Talk about counter-cultural! "It is hard to admit to the darkness, fears, anguish, confusion and psychological hatred in our own hearts, off of which hide our past hurts and reveal our inability to love." And until we face these wounds - and own them as real - the darkness will have more power than the light. Journaling, silent prayer, conversation with trusted friends,study and patience is part of how this practice strengthens love.

Faced with my anger and inability to love, I came into contact with my own humanity - and became more humble. I discovered that I was frightened of my own dark places, always wanting to succeed, to be admired and ready with the right answers. I was, however, hiding my poverty...(In time) I realized that to become a friend to people in need, I needed to pray and work on myself, with the help of the Holy spirit, and with good human and spiritual support - people who would walk with me and share my life. I had to learn to accept myself without any illusions... and little by little, the weak and the powerless helped me to accept my own poverty, become for fully human and grown in inner wholeness. (p. 34)
+ Trusting the hidden presence of God:  Vanier believes that the weak are God's chosen people. They know when they are loved. They know when they are rejected. Or forgotten. Or marginalized. "When children know that they are loved, they are peaceful. When they feel unwanted, they are in pain. They learn through contact with their hearts, their bodies and their senses." This is one of the gifts people with intellectual disabilities - God's chosen - can share with the world: living from the heart and body.  This is a hidden gift. This is the presence of God that many cannot grasp. St. Paul put it like this in his counter-cultural confession: "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world..." to show us all the way into love. (I Corinthians 1:27-28) Some in the ancient monastic movements of early Christianity spoke of this as being "fools for Christ." It is a way of trusting that God's hidden presence guides and shapes all of creation. "The mystery is that our God is a hidden God."

Our God is not a God of rules, regulations and obligations, or a master teacher who wants to impose a path of salvation. Our God is a God of love and communion, a heart yearning to communicate to another heart the joy and ecstasy of love and communion that exist between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit... (Small wonder then that) God who is all powerful, all beautiful, all glorious becomes powerless, little and weak. The logic of love is different form the logic or reason and power. When you love someone, you use her language to be close to her. When you love a child, you speak and play with him as a child. That is how God relates to us. God becomes little - hidden - so that we will not be frightened. so that we can enter into a heart-to-hear relationship of love and communion. (p. 42)

The mystery of the poor is costly. It is hard for all involved - not just ourselves. It inverts the way we think the world works - a realm of busyness, efficiency and usefulness - for a life of listening, welcoming and sharing. Vanier confesses that the "poor lead us all from selfishness into generosity and then compassion." It is much like the meeting of Jesus and Peter after the betrayal of Good Friday and the shock of Easter Sunday. Peter has run away in disgrace. He had turned his back on Jesus after promising to love him forever. Peter has returned to his life as a fishermen. This happens in our lives too after failing or disappointing those we love: we go back to our old habits. After working all night with no success, Jesus appears to Peter on the beach. Peter, however, is still heart broken and cannot yet recognize the one he loves so he ignores the quiet presence of Jesus. 

Jesus asks him to give fishing one more try. And after an argument, Peter agrees and takes in a great catch of fish. Then his eyes are opened and they eat an Easter breakfast together on the beach. Before Jesus moves on, however, he asks Peter three times: "Do you love me?" One for each betrayal. Peter is filled with sorrow and shame as Jesus helps Peter own the cost of his emptiness and fear. Peter needs to know the truth about his humanity. Then, Jesus tells Peter that "When you were young, you went wherever you wanted. But now that you are older, another will have to give you support and will lead you into those place you do not want to go." (John 21) The mystery of the poor leads us all - rich and poor - into quiet tenderness. It is a costly transformation much like the Cross that reorders the totality of our existence.

credits:
+ Old prayer book: jlumsden
+ Erikson chart: google
+ Harry's art: jlumsden
+ Contemporary Jesus: https://www.pinterest.com/lespinola02/contemporary-art-of-jesus/
+ Heart of love: google
+ Montreal Ice: jlumsden
+ Communion chalice
+ Jesus and Peter: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/403635185335192991/

Thursday, August 2, 2018

a spirituality of l'arche - part two...

Yesterday I summarized three broad ways of appreciating the unique spiritual path of L'Arche: through the theological mysteries described by Vanier, through the core values document of L'Arche Canada, and through my own synthesis. Today I return to Vanier 's insights in The Heart of L'Arche: A Spirituality for Every Day, in order to deepen both my understanding of these commitments and discern how to live into their wisdom more fully. Over the next week I will take a closer look at other expressions of L'Arche spirituality, too. 

By way of a reminder, L'Arche founder, Jean Vanier, has written that the core of a spirituality of L'Arche is the embodied expression of five mysteries:  
  • The mystery of Jesus
  • The mystery of the poor
  • The mystery of life lived in community
  • The mystery of the God who walks with us
  • The mystery of the church
Please note that the word mystery is not about secrets or riddles, but rather a way of experiencing God's presence in creation. A sacrament is traditionally defined as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual truth. To live and move in the world sacramentally, therefore, is to honor the obvious physical realities of life while simultaneously searching for deeper insights. A sacramental spirituality asserts that one of the ways the Holy communicates with us involves trusting creation as the "first revealed Word of God." St. Francis of Assisi, for example, often asked his "little brothers" to be on the look-out for signs of the cross in nature, in architecture, in stories, paintings and everything else in life. By doing so they were regularly reminded of God's loving presence in the world through what they saw, heard, tasted and encountered. 
  • St. Paul put it like this in Romans 1:20: "Ever since the creation of the world God's eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made."
  • The first two chapters of Genesis form another foundational text: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day..."

  • And the prologue of St. John's gospel is equally sacramental: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it... (In time, this) Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory."
Vanier embraces a sacramental way of discerning God's will within the world: this is why he pays so much attention to caring for the human body. If God became flesh in Jesus, and Jesus calls each of us God's beloved, then we all share something of the holy within our humble flesh. It is to be honored. Listened to seriously. Cared for tenderly. Here is how I understand the sacramental wisdom of the five mysteries Vanier utilizes in The Heart of L'Arche.


The mystery of Jesus:  As a Christian, Vanier has a profound relationship with Jesus. It is intimate, mystical, sacramental and personal. He is always clear and inclusive stating that all religious traditions are expressions of God's love as well as paths into making God's love flesh. At the same time, he has experienced the unique blessings found within the way of Jesus. In The Heart of L'Arche, he writes that the mystery of Jesus includes three practices that not only shape and transform our lives, but express God's love within the fabric of human society.
  • Jesus came to bring good news to poor, broken and rejected people: Jesus first revealed to the suffering of the world that they were important and precious to God. They were not the forgotten: they were God's beloved. He also reached out to the privileged of his time asking them to share resources, time and love with the wounded. In doing this, he restored a measure of healing and wholeness to God's world as it was in the beginning. Vanier observes that in loving the wounded and connecting people with time and wealth to them, "Jesus (is seen to be the one who) did not come to judge or condemn, but to gather all the scattered children of God (John 11:52)."
He came to break down the walls that separate the rich from the poor, the strong from the weak, the healthy from the sick, so that they might be reconciled to one another and discover that they are all part of one body. He came to heal the wealthy and to lead them to love; he came to bring hope to those who were rejected. (pp. 19-20)
  • Jesus shared daily bread and ordinary conversations with all of God's people: he ate with those who were hated (tax collectors and prostitutes) as well as beloved religious teachers (Pharisees and Sadducees.) He welcomed religious extremists into his community alongside those alienated from religion as well as ordinary working people, women with financial resources, children, those with illness of mind or body and everybody in-between. Vanier reminds us that it was during meals that people who rarely interacted rediscovered their common humanity.
(At table) Jesus called rich people... to change, to share their good with those in need instead of looking down on them. He did not insist that they sell their houses (and give up their wealth), but he did call them to open their hearts to the poor. (p. 19)
  • And Jesus gave up privilege and power by choosing a life of downward mobility:  The way of Jesus up-ends conventional wisdom even as it reverberates with the questions of spirituality throughout the ages: what is the purpose of life and how can I grow closer to its source? As Vanier notes, Jesus does not just serve the poor, he becomes one of them. This is part of what happens when God's Word becomes flesh in first century Palestine. It is how Jesus documents that our hearts will be filled and our lives fulfilled not by power, but by sharing the lowest place in society. Jesus offers us a new vision rooted in the ageless testimony of God. "God is compassionate; God watches over the poor and calls the rich to enter into relationship with them."
The man of compassion becomes a man in need of compassion, a poor man. Jesus overturns the established order and urges people not simply to do good to the poor but to discover through relationship with him and them that God is hidden in the poor. Though his actions in life, and his abject vulnerability in death, Jesus reveals to us that the poor and weak have the power to heal and free people. (p. 22)

These three sacramental mysteries of Jesus are also practices that shape the soul of L'Arche. Reconciliation and healing takes place as those who are poor and forgotten experience relationships of love, trust and respect. And it is in the very act of loving and nourishing the most forgotten that those of us with privilege discover our own wounds and how love brings a measure of healing to us, too. Every day affords us a chance to renew our commitment to God's love as ordinary meals at shared tables become holy places where small miracles occur and new vulnerabilities are exposed. Trust and love require proximity - and family dinners are time-tested places to practice listening, laughing, loving, forgiving and sharing in simple ways. Over time, we realize we need one another to live this life honestly. None of us have the stamina or grace to do it by ourselves: we need God, we need one another and we need time. The mysteries of Jesus give these practices shape and form at L'Arche. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

a spirituality of l'arche

One of the treasures I have discovered in the earned wisdom of Jean Vanier of L'Arche comes in his refusal to idealize reality, people, or the blessings of tender compassion. Even the spirituality he has nourished from within his Christian faith is grounded in the ordinary. "When we talk of the poor, or of announcing the good news to the poor, we should never idealize the poor. Poor people are hurt; they are in pain. They can be very angry, in revolt or in depression." O give thanks to God that Vanier's philosophical foundation is Aristotelian rather than Platonic, yes? 

As I continue to discover, the spirituality of L'Arche shares time-tested practices that can shape our bodies, hearts, souls, and minds in a manner similar to the paths of St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Francis of Assisi, or St. Ignatius of Loyola. In his small book, The Heart of L'Arche: A Spirituality of Every Day, Vanier offers one summary of how the charism of L'Arche ripens in everyday life. It is his distillation of what the Holy Spirit has revealed: "In an age obsessed with achievement (the Spirit has revealed to us that) the essential value of each person lies not in the intelligence, but in the wisdom of the heart." He then suggests that this spirituality is shaped by five theological mysteries:

  • The mystery of Jesus
  • The mystery of the poor
  • The mystery of life lived in community
  • The mystery of the God who walks with us
  • The mystery of the church

By mystery Vanier does not mean puzzles to be solved nor truths to be revealed after this realm passes and we meet the Holy face to face in heaven. Too often, the word mystery has been used this way. For many mystery either means a secret wisdom reserved only for the elite but not the mases, or, paradoxical truths about doctrine that require a nuanced poetry that lazy minds refuse to articulate. The legacy of this understanding of mystery is not what informs the work of Vanier. Rather, he is guided by Jesus, St. John the Evangelist and St. Paul of Tarsus who speak of mystery sacramentally: there is simultaneously an obvious reality to everything in creation, and, a deeper meaning for those willing to receive eyes to see and ears to hear. Think of the parables of Jesus. Or the poetry of St. John's metaphors. Or the way St. Paul describes living by faith as "seeing now as through a glass darkly, trusting that later we shall see face to face." Mystery, therefore, is not inexplicable: it is complex and multifaceted truth.
In A Spirituality for Every Day, Vanier carefully uses simple language to unpack some of the implications of the five mysteries shaping a spirituality of L'Arche. In the mystery of Jesus, for example, he tells us that Jesus did not just "serve the poor, be became one of them. The Word becomes flesh; the All-Powerful comes as a defenseless child who awakens love in our hearts." 

The man of compassion becomes a man in need of compassion... Jesus overturns the established order. He urges people not simply to do good to the poor, but to discover through relationship with him and them that God is hidden in the poor. Through his actions in live - and his abject vulnerability in death - he reveals to us that the poor and the weak have the power to heal and free all people.

In each subsequent mystery, Vanier offers insights into how the wisdom of God is made flesh by practicing/embracing the mystery of the poor, the mystery of community, etc. Each transforms our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls for both guidance and clarity are essential for spiritual formation.


Others in L'Arche have formulated alternative ways of articulating what it means to live into the spirituality of this community. My friends at L'Arche Ottawa and throughout L'Arche Canada have discerned core values as a way to enflesh and embody the charism of this movement. Their articulation includes: "L’Arche has a distinct spirit where persons with intellectual disabilities (Core Members) and Assistants truly share life “with” one another." 
  • A Vibrant Community: We share an extraordinary life of welcome, celebration, traditions, togetherness and belonging 

  • A Celebration of the Value of Each Person: We know and appreciate each person; we listen to each other and develop and share our talents and gifts 

  • An Openness to Mutual Relationships: We develop life-changing friendships where each of us gives and each of us receives 

  • A Journey Together: We care how our actions affect others and learn how to treat others with kindness, respect and in a spirit of togetherness 

  • A Nurturing of our Gifts and Growth: We support one another to grow and to reach our potential 
  • A Role in Community: We each have a part to play in our community and work alongside others for the common good 
  • A Shared Spirituality: We see and discover a spiritual meaning in day-to-day life and reflect on our common humanity 
  • A Life of Joy: We create fun and share our joy 
  • An Opportunity to Shape a More Human Society: We share the vision and spirit of L'Arche beyond our community and advocate for a more just and human society
This expression of the spirituality of L'Arche does not use theological language as a starting point. It seeks to describe the way of life at L'Arche in different counter-cultural ways that include joy, mutuality, sharing, the journey inward and outward, as well as the importance of trust in caring for each person as a unique manifestation of God's love in the real world. I sometimes try to better understand these core values by synthesizing these spiritual practices. We grow into God's image at L'Arche by practicing:
  • Togetherness not loneliness
  • Cherishing one another not neglecting
  • Sharing rather than selfishness
  • Respect not shame
  • Courage and creativity not fear
  • Participation not hiding
  • Trusting God's love is at the heart of creation not judgment 
  • Celebrating life instead of busyness 
  • Compassion for all not cruelty
In a world that has become smaller and more multicultural, in a movement that honors the spiritual insights of other faith traditions while resting in the love of Jesus, these more inclusive words are essential. Holding the unique blessings of Jesus in a loving embrace with other religious truths has increasingly become what L'Arche looks like throughout the world.  For me I find I am able to do this by evaluating my thoughts, deeds, desires and prayers through the lens of these words of Vanier:


What I see important for myself is just to become a friend of Jesus and nothing else. And the whole I think of the mystery of Christianity is just living with Jesus the way Jesus lived in Nazareth with Mary, his mother, and with Joseph. A relationship. John the Baptist was strong, he was powerful... (but) Jesus was quiet. And he ate with people who are caught up in prostitution, with tax collectors, with lepers and all that. I mean, there's something so simple about Jesus that he is disarming. We don't quite know what to do with it. Because frequently, we would want a powerful Jesus who will put everything straight, who will cure everybody, who will do everything that we tell him to do. And it's not like that. (
https://onbeing.org/programs/jean-vanier-wisdom-tenderness-4/)

In an interview with Krista Tippett of On Being (a most excellent resource for renewal and reflection) Vanier goes on to say that being a friend of Jesus at this moment in time demands that we not get caught up in problems too big for our friendship "With television and even with cell phones and Internet, we can cut away from relationship, you see? To get an e-mail, you don't see the eyes of the person, you don't see the face, you don't see the smile, you don't see the hands, you don't see the tone of voice. And we have to come down to small is beautiful because small is where we really …"

MS. TIPPETT: Isn't it funny that global technology may bring us back to small is beautiful.

DR. VANIER: Possibly. Or take us away from it. As I had said, you see, I mean, as you look at that Iraqi child and you were wounded and wanted to do something, yet, you were confronted by your incapacity because the child was not in front of you. If that child was in front of you, you could have taken the child in your arms. So we're going into a world where the imagination, the virtual, the long distance, see things far away appear as close. But you can't touch them. They're close to the imagination, but they're not close to the body. So let's come back to the reality of the small. There, we can …

MS. TIPPETT: Like the people who live down the street from us.

DR. VANIER: We can touch them, we can be with them. The difficulty with L'Arche, which is also a beauty — I say it's our difficulty, it's our beauty, is that it's small and it's just very little and it …he reality of every day is sometimes quite painful in the smallness in a world where people are being pushed to pretend that they're big.

MS. TIPPETT: I think it is, it's deeply countercultural that you say repeatedly, you don't want with L'Arche to change the world. That's not the goal.

DR. VANIER: What we can do is what Gandhi says, we can't change the world, but I can change. And if I change, and I seek to be more open to people and less frightened of relationship, if I begin to see what is beautiful within them, if I recognize also that there's brokenness because I'm also broken, and that's OK, then there's something that begins to happen.

But it’s so counterculture but that doesn’t matter. What has happened, what I sense for the future of our poor little world, with all its ecological difficulties and financial difficulties, that maybe the big thing that’s going to happen is that little lights of love will spread over the country. Little places where people love each other, and welcome the poor and the broken. And that the world is, you know, we’ll never hit the headlines but we’ll be creating these little lamps. And if there are sufficient number of little, little lamps in each village or each city and parts of the city, well then the glow will be a little bit greater.


After trying to be big for almost 40 years of ordained ministry - after trying to change and heal some of the big wounds in my world - the mystery of being friends with Jesus has been shared with me. It is a way of living that is tender. Quiet. Joyful and harsh often simultaneously. Honest and grounded in the truth of our bodies. Today, like Jesus praying to the Lord, I give thanks that this mystery of the little ones has been shared with me. 


I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11)

I look forward to entering this mystery more thoroughly and deeper as my intimacy with L'Arche matures over this next year.

a spirituality of l'arche - part five

NOTE: I thought I would finish this series up earlier this week but on my way to some commitments, as John Lennon used to say, life happened...