+ “I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes."
+ “Love doesn't mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.”
I hear this as a spirituality of humility and love guided by a fierce opposition to sentimentality. For two days we used four practices to try and go deeper: a) vulnerable story-telling; b) celebrating one another's gifts out loud; c) singing, praying, laughing, weeping and sharing silence together; and d) eating our meals in common. Vanier put it like this in Community and Growth:
One day was set aside especially for community assistants and leaders to honor their experience of "the second call." Fr. Kevin modeled this by telling his own story. "I wanted to share compassion and be a good servant," he said over and again, "only to find out I didn't know how to listen. And I really had to be taught how to wait." Later, L'Arche assistants shared part of their stories, too: stories of heart-break and love, stories of fear and trust, stories of humiliation as well as tenderness. Together we were young assistants and senior citizens, folk from all around the world including South America, Africa, Asia, Europe as well as North America, and people of differing spiritual insights. By evening of the first day a sense of our respective vulnerability was palpable.
On day two, the core members and some of their families took us deeper by speaking of their journey into L'Arche. Some courageous and tender words were spoken on Saturday, words born of suffering, love and hope. There were songs and prayers, soup and bread, and later Eucharist. The reading for Ascension Sunday was fitting: after Christ is lifted into the consciousness of creation, an angel says to the first disciples, "Why do you have your head in the cloud? Jesus is not up there. Go out into the world in his manner and make his love flesh within and among you. Go do it!" (Acts 1) Vanier reminds us that our calling to make God's gracious love flesh among us is slow work - and requires that we become friends of time.
Individual growth towards love and wisdom is slow. A community's growth is even slower. Members of a community have to be friends of time. They have to learn that many things will resolve themselves if they are given enough time. It can be a great mistake to want, in the name of clarity and truth, to push things too quickly to a resolution. Some people enjoy confrontation and highlighting divisions. This is not always healthy. It is better to be a friend of time. But clearly too, people should not pretend that problems don't exist by refusing to listen to the rumblings of discontent; they must be aware of the tensions and then learn to work on them at the right moment.
As I drove for six hours to get back to Pittsfield, MA by midnight on Saturday, I returned again and again to the marriage of laughter and tears I felt during this retreat. Often I was full to overflowing listening to the anguished descriptions of life in a world that fears and often punishes people with physical and/or intellectual disabilities. I wept, too when these same friends suddenly burst out in bold laughter describing their current delights. And some of the spontaneous comments - or song requests - were wildly unpredictable, totally hilarious in the sweetest ways possible, and kept us grounded in reality. St. Paul was speaking to me during this time away saying:
I look forward to working more closely with spiritual formation at L'Arche Ottawa in the coming program year. I have a few musical and liturgical gifts to share. And a whole lot of learning about tenderness through the wisdom of my wounds, too.