Driving six hours to and from my community in L'Arche Ottawa affords me a lot of time to listen to what is swirling inside my head and heart. I need a lot of time. Too often I distract myself from what is genuinely life-giving only to have those truths pop into consciousness just when I'd rather be asleep. The long drive back to Pittsfield last night once again became for me an extended meditation on our community retreat. Imagine my delight when I pulled into the driveway at midnight to find this musical meditation in my electronic mailbox.
A few thoughts have already bubbled to the surface and more will come. The most jarring came while crossing the border back into the USA from Canada. The o so young guard could not comprehend why I would regularly make the trek from Massachusetts to Ontario. We clearly spoke different languages. And he was even more bewildered that I would make this drive to volunteer in a community dedicated to love. Not that I used that expression, mind you. That would have certainly suggested cults to him and I didn't want an unnecessary search in the darkness. Still, he looked at me like I was crazy when I explained that L'Arche is an extended family of adults caring for women and men with physical and intellectual disabilities. "What do you DO there?" he demanded a few times. "Often," I said quietly, "I play music. Sometimes I help out with everyday chores." After about five minutes of being grilled by this tender tough guy, he waved me through with a dismissive smirk.
Earlier that day, Fr. Kevin spoke of how a L'Arche community bumped into a similar experience with a governmental authority. The state officials could not comprehend the charism of community life. They, too, spoke a different language than L'Arche. They were comfortable with rules, regulations and codes to care for individuals with various challenges. Consequently, a request for a community house was denied. "You could have separate apartments, however, so that everyone would have personal rooms, locks and keys" they said. So, L'Arche worked within this framework to create common space - as well as individual rooms - that helped the well-intentioned bureaucrats sign-off on the home. It was up to the community to realize the competing world views and find a way to move through the conflict into compassion. By listening with love, by trusting that God will make a way when there is no way, and by freely entering into the conflict with grace rather than fear or defensiveness, L'Arche was able to deepen their mission in the real world.
All the while I was speaking to the border guard I kept thinking, "We are speaking totally different languages." As an old prayer and praise song put it: "We have another world in view." A ton of snarky thoughts, outright challenges, and sarcastic rejoinders to his bullying tone made their appearances in my mind; however, they would not advance the cause. Nor would arguing. Or trying to explain the mission and experience of L'Arche. When asked again, "Why do you drive all the way to Canada to do this volunteering?" I wanted to say: "Because it is of the Lord. I don't know why God called me to Ottawa. I don't know why I find my heart meeting the presence of Jesus in our encounters. And I don't know the end of this story. Ever hear about St. Paul and the crazy things he did for God? Or how about the story of Easter? It was, after all, the liturgical feast of the Ascension! I don't know why God does what God does, I simply know it is of the Lord... and that's good enough for me."
But, of course, that wouldn't advance the cause either. Clearly, there is a time and a season for all things under the sun - and this one called for silence. And trust. And a measure of patience, too. I can still see his complete confusion - and disdain - when I told him the only thing I was bringing back from Canada was a small painting by a community member, Harry Laroque, given to me as a gift. "Go on," we waved at me with his hand, "time to go home." He was just doing his job. He takes protecting the border of the USA very seriously. And like many young, white men with a gun and a bit of authority in America, he was feeling his oats. It made me mildly uncomfortable. A little angry and sad, as well. But, as they pray in AA: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."
There's more to share about the actual retreat - and I will as next week unfolds - just know that for the rest of the ride home I was reminded of my spiritual discipline for this year: behold. Look deeply and lovingly at what God is doing in the moment - and trust it. Like Mary, who beheld the promise of the Lord by holding all the mysteries of Jesus in her heart even without always understanding, so too shall this year be for me. I am so grateful for the long, dark night.
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