The deeper I go into my connection with L'Arche Ottawa the better it feels. Earlier this week, I spent the morning with L'Arche members, assistants and some students from both Carleton College in Ottawa and St. Francis Xavier in Nova Scotia. This was their "introduction" to L'Arche before spending the day in one of the community homes. Three truths bubbled up to the top of my heart during the four hours we spent together:
+ First, there is precious little that is inflated about L'Arche: their call to mission is simple, their charism of community is humble and both the words and activities they share are carefully ordinary. L'Arche is a faith-based collection of God's people from all over the world - young, old and in-between - invited by the Spirit to "live together." Period. They are not out to change the world in ways that are obvious, although the love they nourish incrementally brings healing and hope to individuals and families. In this, they are like the wings of a butterfly that flutter gently yet change all of creation. Neither are they working to take on traditional structures of power. Rather, like Jesus in his everyday living, they feed one another at a common table. They work and play. They listen carefully to one another's joys and sorrows. Individuals are NOT taken for granted: they are bathed in compassion. They make mistakes and ask for forgiveness. They laugh and cry, eat and work, come and go, get angry and move towards reconciliation. Sometimes they find partners or remain solitary as the Spirit moves them. And regularly they grieve, die, honor one another with reverence and then move on to continue the festival of living together. In my experience, L'Arche is always tender but almost never sentimental.
+ Second, L'Arche pays attention to the heart: Jean Vanier, the founder of the community, has regularly written that intellectual advancement without a maturing heart leaves a person unbalanced and unhealthy. This is one of the counter-cultural gifts L'Arche shares with the world. They give maximum attention to the core of each individual. In ways that are stunning but simple, this community carefully strives to meet each person where ever they are on the journey of life: not as they could, might or should be, nor with any expectation of what one might "do" for another. Rather, like the old hymn puts it, they gather, "just as I am without one plea..." It is a spirituality of being rather than doing. Listening with the heart instead of judging. Embracing the moment as precious so that its holiness is honored before moving on to another tasks. In the world as I have known it - even in the church - too many treat others as a means to an end. We become cogs in a machine, robots without faces or souls. L'Arche models an alternative in the way of the heart. This has long been deep calling to deep within me. I rejoice every time I join this small and quiet collection of God's servants.
+ Third, L'Arche has come to recognize that our brokenness is often the font of our deepest healing, too. In the pop psychology of contemporary culture, we tend to talk about honoring paradox in our lives without honestly paying attention. We're too busy. Too addicted to productivity. And too afraid of our own shadows - particularly our inner shadows that expose our wounds to everyone but ourselves. At L'Arche, however, each participant is invited to both notice their fears, angers and wounds, and, attend to them. They are gifts evoked within us so that we might live with greater joy and love. Jesus told his friends in St. John's gospel, "I have come so that your joy may be full." But the joy of God's grace is costly. Like the Cross of Jesus, accepting our fears, shames and failures - owning and honoring them as upside-down treasures - hurts.
To truly enter the paradox of this brokenness is humbling. It asks us to become saturated in the full truth of who we have become, for it is only this truth that can set us free. Like the spiritual masters of AA learned, when we can accept our wounds, we can practice turning them over to God in trust. This is the wisdom of our wounds, but these gifts are agonizing to embrace - especially for those of us who have been in control of our existence for so long. Everyday, then, becomes a chance try practice and try again. Like Mary Chapin-Carpenter sang: "Sometimes you' re the windshield, sometimes you're the bug."
Last night, about 45 of us gathered in the small chapel at La Caravane to celebrate Eucharist. We sang and sat is silence. We talked together in English and French about the joys and sorrows of "living together" in the love of Jesus. And then we took, blessed, broke and shared the body and blood of the Lord in community. I am so very, very grateful.
photo credits: Henrietta Kelemen
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