Friday, February 16, 2018

the intimacy of the table...

One of the experiences that opened my heart to L'Arche Ottawa was their gentle and unforced hospitality. It is quiet, authentic and grounded in everyday life. And one of the basic expressions of this generous spirit takes place each day around the table. Whether it is eating a simple supper in one of the homes, a community night with refreshments, Eucharist, or the monthly intra-house suppers, I have experienced the heart of L'Arche Ottawa around the table. Henri Nouwen once offered this insight that resonates with me:

The table is one of the most intimate places in our lives. It is there that we give ourselves to one another. When we say, "Take some more, let me serve you another plate, let me pour you another glass, don't be shy, enjoy it," we say a lot more than our words express. We invite our friends to become part of our lives. We want them to be nurtured by the same food and drink that nurture us. We desire communion. That is why a refusal to eat and drink what a host offers is so offensive. It feels like a rejection of an invitation to intimacy. Strange as it may sound, the table is the place where we want to become food for one another. Every breakfast, lunch, or dinner can become a time of growing communion with one another.


That is one of the reasons I keep trekking back to L'Arche Ottawa: my soul is nurtured every time we break bread together. This connection has been ripening for a few years; and now that I have moved into retirement from ministry, I find my heart saying, "This is your community now." I pray for them daily. I look forward to the regular email messages from Jean Vanier. And I am starting to construct my new life with them at the core. Today's message from Vanier is illustrative:

It would be dangerous to deepen a spirituality that did not have a good anthropological basis. We have a treasure in L'Arche, people with intellectual disability reveal important elements of our human nature that are often hidden in people who have developed their intellectual and manual capacities. We have to reflect on these elements that show what it means to grow and develop as a human being, and what we need in order to live and deepen our humanity.

It makes me think of St. Paul's insights to the church in Corinth. The apostle was clear. Letting his friends know that often the key to living by trust in God's grace comes from owning our deepest wounds. Most of the time, we cultivate lives that hide this brokenness from others and ourselves rather than honor it. God's love keeps returning to us - inviting us deeper - no matter how often we run away. But we remain afraid. Ashamed. Divided against ourselves. Fr. Rohr suggests that most cultures and traditions encourage this deception for the first half of life: in order to be successful, we must be strong and productive. All the while we know that our wounds are crying out for attention and wearing us out. This duplicity often becomes exhausting in the second half of life. "Come unto me all ye who are tired and heavy laden and I will give ye rest," Jesus promises in Matthew 11. And that's precisely what God's blessings and wisdom feel like when we start to let go of our lies, shame and illusions. No wonder St. Paul wrote: 

we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Later this weekend we will head north to Ottawa once again. I will sup with my friends, join them for study and prayer, celebrate Eucharist and participate in Taize prayer. We'll be looking for different housing options on this trip, too: L'Arche, family and music with Hal are becoming the heart of a new, earthy and rewarding sense of call.

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