Friday, August 31, 2018

what a difference a year can make...

Last year at this time we were in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Not only was this a favorite get away spot to soak up nature's glory - no Internet  connection allowed - but we needed to prayerfully discern if the time to fully retire from ministry had arrived. After trying six ways from Sunday to make an incomplete financial offer work, the Spirit of holiness showed us that I was being called out of pastoral ministry. With relief, my retirement was announced shortly after returning to the US. This time last year also marked the birth of our precious granddaughter who came into this realm seven weeks early. After a series of harrowing prenatal medical mistakes that were terrifying but turned out for the best, this little one's will to live triumphed. We were giving thanks to God that everyone left the hospital healthy and rejoice that they continue to be robust and filled with love. And just to add another layer of complexity, I began an experiment in part-time ministry just a few months earlier about the same time our beloved grandson was stricken with a life-threatening illness. He, too is now thriving in anticipation of kindergarten, but it was hell for a few weeks.


All of which is to say we are rejoicing that last year is over. We are remembering the strength and courage of our children who shared sacrificial love and prayers with and for their babies - and one another. We return thanks to God for the work of excellent doctors, nurses and hospital staff, too. And we recognize that our lives are in a much healthier and holier place than they were this time last year. Di has truly found her niche in the world of teaching English on-line as well as writing for this creative company. I have discerned a deeper calling into the tender ministries of L'Arche. And I've had the chance to make some beautiful and creative music with our band Famous Before We're Dead. I am more active physically than a year ago. I sleep better. I practice my bass with more vigor, pray more consistently, cook new Middle Eastern recipes with a sense of adventure - and have kicked most of my anxieties out the door. 

I am learning how to make due with a lot less: resources are tight but adequate for a simple life. I am taking the task of recycling far more seriously than when I was often too busy to notice. I have the time to be grateful each day. And take a nap on a regular basis, too. And the reason I am writing this retrospective post about the difference one year has made in our lives is this: the essence of peace starts within. Serenity is fundamentally a choice. The late Henri Nouwen put it like this:

When we look critically at the many thoughts and feelings that fill our minds and hearts, we may come to the horrifying discovery that we often choose death instead of life, curse instead of blessing. Jealousy, envy, anger, resentment, greed, lust, vindictiveness, revenge, hatred ... they all float in that large reservoir of our inner life. Often we take them for granted and allow them to be there and do their destructive work. But God asks us to choose life and to choose blessing. This choice requires an immense inner discipline. It requires a great attentiveness to the death-forces within us and a great commitment to let the forces of life come to dominate our thoughts and feelings. We cannot always do this alone; often we need a caring guide or a loving community to support us. But it is important that we both make the inner effort and seek the support we need from others to help us choose life.

Another way of saying this is: take time for discernment and then intentionally live into the practices that nurture joy, hope and love. This is how we choose life. Being frank and clear about what we need to grow into the blessings of life requires time and patience. It also demands a well-defined standard against which we can measure our options. As I realize yet again when I compare Labor Day 2018 with 2017, embracing the way of simplicity and tenderness in the spirit of Jesus has set me free. Over time my choosing the path of Christ's quiet compassion has led me deeper into the bounty of life. Frederick Beuchner hit the nail on the head in Wishful Thinking when he wrote:

VOCATION: IT COMES FROM the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a (person) is called to by God.  There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you've presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you've missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you're bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren't helping your patients much either.

This Labor Day weekend I give thanks for making it through another year. I give thanks for the patience - and angst - that led me out of full time ministry. I rejoice in the blessings that have grown because of that choice - especially time with Di, time with our family, L'Arche Ottawa and music making. This next year will give me a chance to go deeper still. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

what have I discovered about my new life since leaving ministry?

Asked by a younger colleague, "What's retirement REALLY like for you?" I came up with four responses:

+ First, I no longer live in the realm of anxiety: no church politics, no dread of being ambushed, no telephone terror. Others may know this dynamic in their work, too but many pastors have been squeezed into a life-style that Stanley Hauwerwas once described as "a becoming a quivering mass of availability." I learned strategies to find balance - including always screening my home phone calls - and regularly sought out spiritual direction and solitude. But the shifting expectations pastors bring to their office combined with the expectations so many church leaders and members impose upon their pastors can become exhausting. And demoralizing. I am not talking about pastoral emergencies within the cycle of life and death. Night or day, while those realities can be trying, they are part of the holy privilege of being companions with loved ones striving to be faithful. I have cherished those times - and will carry them with me beyond the grave with gratitude. No, what I am talking about is the willful disrespect that some leaders insist upon sharing. Or the mean-spirited way some speak to their pastors only to act stunned when their clergy defend themselves. Or the total lack of accountability for moral and ethical behavior in a congregation that renders the church a smarmy civic club or a burial society. I don't miss looking over my shoulder, trembling when the phone rings, or second -guessing carefully considered actions in any manner, shape or form.   

+ Second, I have been surprised to find some people still seeking me out for counsel. Mostly not those who were part of my former congregation but people I have met over the past forty years in ministry: former colleagues as well as young people now hitting middle age. In a culture that does not honor growing older, I have been surprised by how many people want/need a trusted elder outside their family to think through various life decisions. Probably once a month for the past year I have received phone calls or emails asking me to help out with what was once known as discernment. Not career counseling, therapy or coaching, but careful listening based upon trust and respect. This has been a quiet joy both because it affirms the integrity of previous relationships and because it affords me the chance to be helpful in a counter-cultural way. In a society that is so mobile and fast-paced we still need deep relationships.


+ Third, I am living in an ambiguous spirituality that is no longer moored in a faith community so I am having to rediscover which spiritual disciplines are nurturing - and I have only just begun.  As I have written elsewhere, in a small town where I was once very active and public, the options for church participation are limited. So far that's been ok as I have not really wanted to re-enter a formal discipline with another congregation. That will come in time, but it is refreshing to move at a much slower and freer pace on Sunday mornings. At the same time, because so much of my former life had been shaped by communal celebrations of the liturgical year, I now have to figure out how to maintain this cycle of prayer, feasting and fasting. Being connected to L'Arche Ottawa has been part of the answer as I can be with my new community during Advent and Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. I can also celebrate Eucharist in this community, too. But I am now learning to practice prayer as a solitary monk in a highly secular society - and I am just starting to figure this out.

+ And fourth, most weeks I have no idea what day of the week it is.  I know this sounds like a retirement cliché, but it is true. I had to create a hard copy calendar to know not only what liturgical season we were in but also what day of the week was taking place. Without the demands of an external community, my days are very quiet: I pray and read, I clean and do yard work, I play and practice music and periodically travel north to Ottawa. No one is asking me to stand and deliver anything so one day is filled with as much meaning and beauty as the next. I was stunned that this became true but find I enjoy it. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Every day has become a quiet holy day.

Perhaps I should add that I have not experienced grief over the close of my life as a clergy person. My release and relief from anxiety and anguish is a blessing. My conversations as an elder are equally satisfying. Same, too for discovering a quiet life as a secular monk. Do I miss preaching? A little. Do I miss singing the songs of faith in community? Sometimes. But I have found a new context that is more life-giving for me to share in these joys. What is retirement REALLY like for me after nearly 40 years of caring for congregations as a pastor? It is quiet and tender and very small. That is to say, it is a blessing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

called into tenderness...

While on an extended sabbatical in Montreal three years ago, I began to write and research a subject dear to my heart: a spirituality of tenderness. Looking at the holy texts of my tradition reinforced my longing. Tenderness and fidelity, you see, are at the heart of authentic living - yet both are in short supply in our ginned-up, psyched-out, 24/7 culture. The more I read and prayed in Montreal, the more I realized that nourishing tenderness in all its incarnations has been at the core of my calling since 1968. Sadly, I am a slow learner, just now starting to take God's gracious invitation seriously with conscious choices for my life.

In the early days of research one of the names that kept popping up was Jean Vanier. (NOTE: last month, while sorting out papers from my nearly 40 years of pastoral ministry, I came across a note from my spiritual director in Cleveland, OH encouraging me to check out Jean Vanier. Yet more evidence of my slow uptake!) The more of Vanier's writing I took in, the more I felt drawn to L'Arche. Eventually I visited one of their communities in Ottawa where I am now a volunteer. It has become my new spiritual home. In his masterwork, Community and Growth, Vanier wrote: 

The Hebrew word 'Hesed' expresses two things: fidelity and tenderness. In our civilization we can be tender but unfaithful, and faithful without tenderness. Our world is waiting for communities of tenderness and fidelity. They are coming.

Recently Fr. Richard Rohr wrote that fidelity and tenderness form the essence of the Jewish prophetic tradition. Quoting another master, Walter Breuggemann, he observed that despite adversity, fear and oppression, the testimony of the ancient prophets points to the centrality of tenderness in prophetic spirituality. In a short quote from the book of Exodus, followed by the interpretation of Brueggemann, Rohr states:

"YHWH, YHWH, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and abounding in faithfulness. For the thousandth generation, YHWH maintains kindness, forgiving all your faults, transgressions, and sins." (Exodus 34:6-7) (This is)“a formulation so studied that it may be reckoned to be something of a classic, normative statement to which Israel regularly returned, meriting the label ‘credo.’” [1] In it are found five generous and glorious adjectives that describe the heart and soul of Jewish belief. Somehow, against all odds and neighbors, the children of Israel were able to experience a God who was merciful (in Hebrew, rhm), compassionate/gracious (hnn), steadfast in love (hsd), tenaciously faithful (‘emeth) and forgiving (ns’). This is the dynamic center of their entire belief system, as it should be ours and, like all spiritual mystery, seems to be endlessly generative and fruitful, culminating in the full-blown—and literally unthinkable—concept of grace.

Looking backwards I can see that intentionally but more often accidentally, in moments of clarity as well as numerous times of pure grace, tenderness has been what my heart yearns for. In another Vanier quote, some earthy practicalities are added to these lofty ideals that warrant inclusion if balance is to prevail. Remember, he writes:

The ideal doesn't exist. The personal equilibrium and the harmony people dream of come only after years and years of struggle, and them only as flashes of grace and peace. Peace is the fruit of love and service to others. I'd like to tell the people in communities, "Stop looking for peace. Give yourselves where you are. Stop looking at yourselves, look instead at your brothers and sisters in need. Ask how you can better love your brothers and sisters. Then you will find peace."

Lord may it be so for me this day.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

listening for my true musical roots...

As I was driving down to band practice last Sunday morning on Route 8 in CT, I found myself seriously mulling over who truly influenced my musical tastes? It is SOP for musicians my age to note that life changed completely after seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. That is no lie for me. In fact, that Sunday evening in February 1964 was my personal Pentecost: I finally felt as if life had meaning and I might be able to share with others a little of the beauty and joy this music gave to me. This is the song that pushed me off the cliff into rock and roll heaven.

On the first pass of musical mentors, it would have to be the Beatles, the Stones, Jimi Hendrick, Cream, Jeff Beck, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. Go a little deeper, however, and it becomes clear that Joni Mitchell was a huge influence as was John Fogerty. I am a big fan of Eric Andersen,Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson and Laura Nyro, too. The pop/gospel/country roots of Fogerty shapes the sound I seek to create. What he does with "Midnight Special," for example, defines about 75% of my aesthetic sensibilities.  
The poetry and innovation of Mitchell and Cohen drive my quest to marry playful lyrics with understated melodies and instrumentation. I hate overproduced songs saturated with sythn and strings! And has there ever been a more poignant and insightful lament written that this?

The music Andersen and early Kristofferson made merged Americana with the counter culture giving me a way to celebrate twang without becoming sentimental. And Nyro? Total blue eyed soul - like the Rascals or Little Steven and the Disciples. Sure I grooved to Motown, loved me some Linda Ronstadt and Maria Muldaur, and went to every Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention concert I could get to back in the day. But those cats don't drive the music I hear in my heart. "Captain for Dark Mornings" says it better than I ever could.
These artists are why I enjoy Springsteen and his various ensembles so vigorously: he creates roots music, too. Like Lucinda Williams. Both of those artists bring contemporary concerns to timeless sounds so that I feel grounded in a tradition even as I am carried into new territory. And that brings me to the last guy that I can't get enough of:  Bobby Weir of the Grateful Dead. He is not the world's greatest singer. Neither am I. But he plays the most creative rhythm guitar you will ever hear. And, he loves a good party when the band is cooking. So I would have to say this take on the Chuck Berry original, "Around and Around" (which I first heard on a Stones LP) is another essential for me.

It is a must to close this with Carrie Newcomer - another direction - as well as brother Tom Waits - and now for something completely different - as these two very different writers always take it deeper for me. Keep on truckin' friends.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Famous Before We're Dead @ Infinity Bistro, Norfolk, CT: Sunday, September 2 @ 6 pm

Those who are able - and close by - let me invite and encourage you to join our band, Famous Before We're Dead, at the Infinity Bistro (https://www.infinity hall.com/Events/sunday-sessions-live-music-in-the-norfolk-bistro-w-famous-before-were-dead-w-ha/) on Sunday, September 2, 2018 between 6-8 pm.
We're starting to get local bookings now so this will be a great kick-off to a fall season of original music. The vibe at Infinity is chill. The food is great. And we would love to see you. Your support has been vital so let's have a party over Labor Day!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

gratitude and tenderness...

One of the joys I am experiencing at this moment in my life involves going deeper into a spirituality of tenderness. Earlier today I was in conversation with some new L'Arche friends. During our discussion, I was struck by how important this calling into tenderness is for me. It is both an inward celebration of Jesus nourishing and encouraging my heart, and, an outward expression of sharing small acts of welcome and acceptance in a frightened world. It is a way of strengthening the still, small voice of God's love in my soul as well as incarnating this Spirit in my flesh. I couldn't help but recall these words from Isaiah 55:


Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live...
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near...
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace...


In a time when institutional Christianity is crashing and burning in both Europe and North America - often for very good reasons - I keep discovering new ways to renew my love for Jesus. Today's reading from Scripture on "Pray as You Go" (https://www.pray-as-you-go.org/home/) was a parable from Matthew 22. An invitation from the king to a wedding banquet was extended to the best and the brightest, but they were too busy to respond. So the poor and lame, the wounded and maimed were brought into the festivities - including one who did not put on his party dress. Whatever else Jesus intended by telling this story - and whatever else the early Church hope to accomplish by keeping it within the canon - I heard something about God's radical generosity as well as my responsibility to respond to it. That is, the invitation is free but I need to put on my party dress and join the celebration or I will miss the blessings all around me. That's not God's fault. It is mine.

Such is the focus of contemplation: taking a long, loving look at what is real means making time to be quiet. To listen. To nourish the heart, soul, spirit and flesh. Only then can we share something of that blessing with another. The tender way of Jesus is not about frenzy. Or grand gestures. Or being so over committed that we are too tired to share. Rather, like a dance, it has to do with stillness followed by movement. Reflection and response. Contemplation and action. After my first prayer time I discovered another little resource called the "Three Minute Retreat." (https://www.loyolapress.com/3-minute-retreats-daily-online-prayer) Check it out - it could help.

My heart has been going deeper into L'Arche this year - and I sense it will go deeper still. Jean Vanier expresses what I have been discovering and listening to and gives shape and form to a spirituality of tenderness:

L'Arche is counter-cultural. For many people in our rich societies, where one has to compete and be successful, to live with people who are weak and limited is foolish, even absurd. They are unable to accept the person behind the weakness. Yet the gospel message reveals that it is the so-called foolish and weak that God has chosen (1 Corinthians). It is those that society excludes who come to the wedding feast (Matthew 22; Luke 14). They have a special place in the heart of God. In all their weakness they can lead us to Jesus.

The Gospel of John has helped me to give meaning to the "foolishness" of our lives. We need spirituality, spirit, priorities, motivation, and nourishment in order to live every day what appears to many as meaningless. We need also an anthropology and a theology which put words on what we are living. It is never easy to be constantly close to people who are weak and in pain, whose limits and handicaps are irremediable, and to be with them as friends... The Word of God in John allows us... to enter the places of darkness and anguish within so that we may enter into transformation. Maybe it is not possible to really enter into the full meaning of the Word of God without living anguish and yearning for transformation through the Spirit of God.


I am so grateful.

credits:
https://www.pixelle.co/oswaldo-guayasamin/
http://www.sanjosecandle.com

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

welcoming jesus as the god who became small...

For a number of years - I don't know how many - my relationship with God has been shaped by the baby Jesus, the Cross, and the Virgin Mary. Mine is not intimacy with a triumphal God, nor am I attracted to what is called the power of the Lord. Rather, my connection is quiet. Small. Like Luther speaking about how God comes to us at Christmas:

Why is God found In the little baby Jesus? Why not in a sensual experience, In a stunning star-filled winter’s sky? In a fresh layer of perfect snow? In the massive power of a blizzard, That strands everyone Where they are at, For days? The answer really, Is simple: God is found In the little baby Jesus, So that He does not Frighten us away With His appearance Among us.

You remember What happened, When God appeared On Mt. Sinai, Or when the prophet Isaiah Beheld God in a vision, Or when the other prophets Encountered God In similar fashion: It was a terrifying, Horrifying, A simply awe-filled, Experience in which death Certainly seem imminent. Who would ever turn to, Such an all-powerful God, Who so terrified us, With His very presence?

Who would seek out a God, Whose very holiness, Would cause us to instantly Suffer revulsion at our own sin? Who would attempt to approach A God who seems to be nothing, but death and destruction? 
No one... so this is what God Would have us do. He would have us, Approach His Son, Jesus Christ In faith, Just like we approach A little tiny baby, Not with fear, Not with anguish, Not with trepidation, But with confidence, And boldness, Knowing That we will indeed Be accepted By Jesus, And being accepted by Jesus, Be accepted By our Father in Heaven. (Martin Luther, Christmas Sermon, 1521 @ https:/ /infanttheology.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/god-is-found-in-the-little-baby-jesus-so-that-he-does-not-frighten-us-away-with-his-appearance-among-us-from-my-pastors-christmas-day-sermon/)

I came across this sermon at the close of Douglas John Hall's book, The Cross in our Context. It resonated with my heart. Much like the hymns "Love Came Down at Christmas" (poem by Christina Rossetti, 1885) or "In the Bleak Midwinter" (Rossetti, 1872) the essence of this mystical connection rests in tenderness: tenderness as the heart of God, tenderness as my greatest desire, tenderness as my calling. Small wonder I continue to be drawn to L'Arche. As Jean Vanier puts it: ""How does Jesus want us to imitate him? Jesus is asking us to follow him on a path of littleness, forgiveness, trust, communion and vulnerability."No crashing cymbals or blaring trumpets, no illusions of power or glory, no puffed up titles or exaggerated heroics: just simple, quiet acts of tenderness. 

I cherish the way Peterson rephrases the words of St. Paul 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.


I read these words over and over. Same with Psalm 131: 
O LORD, I am not proud; I have no haughty looks. I do not occupy myself with great matters, or with things that are too hard for me. But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother's breast; my soul is quieted within me. O Israel, wait upon the LORD, from this time forth for evermore.

And let's not forget Matthew 11: 20/28-30: At that time Jesus said, “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...so 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.

Vanier explains some of this in a helpful way: it is the foolishness of Christ. It is a connection to the wisdom of God that "is not like human wisdom... for my ways are not your ways says the Lord." (Isaiah 55) I read an interview with Vanier yesterday that put it like this when asked about his life's work: "I had to move from generosity to communion."

What's wrong with generosity? Well, with generosity you always have power. You have money and opportunity. I always had power through teaching. But communion is about losing power and becoming a friend to someone. I was trying to move from generosity to personal encounter. And that implies listening and understanding. But that move requires me to be vulnerable. To move from personal encounter to a friendship and then to a commitment-little by little there is a loss of power. I discovered that it's vital that people be welcomed and discover a place of belonging. We belong to each other. But this realization came gradually.  I think my strength was that I didn't quite know what I was doing. When you don't know what you're doing you sort of follow the music. You go with the flow. People come. Some stay. Some go on. People are being transformed... What we have learned how we are transformed by weakness. But we are in a culture that believes we are transformed by power. And the tension between weakness and power is in us all.
I know that tension - and little by little I am learning to face it, own it, even accept it. There's that word, little, again: little like a mustard seed, little like yeast, little like a child. The Cross and the Virgin Mary evoke other aspects of littleness, too. I think of the hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" that celebrates the wisdom of Abelard over Anselm - or pray with my eyes using an icon of the Theotokos of Vladimir - the tenderness of God nourishes me more than anything else. My prayer most days is equally small: Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One: have mercy upon us.

credits

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

s spirituality of l'arche: part six...

NOTE: I began this series of written reflections two weeks ago in the hope that I might summarize the essence of Jean Vanier's small but essential book, The Heart of L'Arche: a Spirituality for Every Day. I wanted to refresh my own understanding of Vanier's insights as well as articulate the practices involved in embracing a spirituality of L'Arche. Spiritual practices - what were once called disciplines, a rule of life, or intentional activities to help individuals and communities reorder their vision, feelings, habits and understanding of how God works in the world - change the way we think. They train us to see beyond the obvious, learn from our wounds, and live our everyday lives with greater joy, trust, and compassion. Spiritual practices are both a life standard - a statement of our most treasured values and goals - as well as a set of clearly defined activities that enrich, challenge, constrain, change and nourish our habits so that incrementally we become our best selves. St. Paul encouraged us to give our everyday, ordinary, walking around lives to the cause of Christ 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. (The Message)

In this closing post I will suggest the practices shaped by "a spirituality rooted in the church" that Vanier celebrates. Please know that L'Arche believes that a variety of religious traditions move their followers towards faith, hope and love. Vanier is authentically inclusive. He also celebrates the unique wisdom of his own Christian heritage. If you have questions, concerns or comments, please send me a note. I value all open and tender communication.
+
The Mystery of the Church
I recently returned from being a part of a family celebration welcoming our one year old granddaughter into the community of faith. Two practices were honored during the liturgy that give shape and form to the way of Jesus: a restatement of what was once called "salvation history" (our story as disclosed in the Bible) and vows made by the community. Our story from the Scriptures went like this:  

We thank you, God, for the gift of creation called forth by your Word. Before the earth had shape and form, your Spirit moved over the waters. Out of the waters of the deep, you formed the firmament and brought forth the earth to sustain all life. In the time of Moses, your people passed the Red Sea waters from slavery to freedom and crossed the flowing waters of the Jordan river to enter the promised land. In time you sent Jesus Christ who was nurtured in the water of Mary’s womb. Jesus was baptized by John at the river Jordan and became living water to the woman at the Samaritan well. He washed the feet of his disciples and sent them forth to baptize all nations by water and the Holy Spirit.

This condensation of the Bible affirms that from the beginning God's purpose in creation was to bring to birth love and order. It also notes that in both the Old and New Testaments there is a core truth: the Spirit of God has been active in nature and history since the start of time. We see God in the activity of Moses and the prophets as well as in the lives of Jesus, Mary and the apostles. This is what our sacred story - salvation history - accomplishes: words to better discern how God's purposes are being made flesh in real time and a lens through which we too can see the holy taking shape in our lives. It gives us a world view. A way of making sense of our experiences. The vows of this ceremony likewise focus our attention: we promise God and one another to both love this new child and guide her/him into a life of faith. We vow to be present in the flesh as well as in our prayers. We pledge to give God, the gathered faithful and the new child lives shaped by honesty, sacrificial love, truth and tenderness. Our lives are to incarnate - make flesh - the words of our faith tradition in our age just as Jesus did in his own.

In the final chapter of Vanier's primer on the spiritual practices of L'Arche, he speaks of how the Scriptures shape the story of L'Arche in time and how we make those truths flesh. "The Bible shows us how much God cares for people. It allows us to know the love of God revealed in Jesus, the Word made flesh."

All biblical history - from the time of Genesis through Abraham, Moses and all the prophets until the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles at the beginning of the church - reveals a God who watches over humanity and longs to lead us to inner freedom and peace. Biblical history is also the history of a people who fear God, who allow themselves to be seduced by riches and pride, who turn away from the love and power God wants to show them in order that they can be transformed and become instruments (of God's) peace and love. (Further) the gospel shows us that the poor, the weak and the marginalized have a special place in God's heart. Just as God called Moses to free the people from slavery, so God calls and sends assistants to L'Arche to welcome whose who are oppressed and suffering rejections because of their intellectual disabilities. God opens the hearts of assistants to the cry and the anguish of these fragile people. The mystery is that these people - with all their fragility and weakness - transform assistants, evangelize them, and call them into the heart of the gospel and the heart of God. (p. 76)

Vanier received a vision from the story of God's people in the Bible. It includes a world view shaped by God's love that shaped the community of L'Arche. This is one way a spirituality shaped by the church matters at L'Arche: we are given eyes to see and ears to hear some of the ways God is at work in the world. Our stories of faith remind us that we have not been abandoned to our own confusion or anxiety. We are not left alone with only our limited abilities. By faith, trust and small acts of compassion, we are united with God just as like Jesus. The gospel of St. John puts it like this when Jesus tells his disciples:

Don’t let (my absence) throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren't so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking... I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life... If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him... The words that I speak to you aren't mere words. I don’t just make them up on my own. The Father who resides in me crafts each word into a divine act. Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me... If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. (Those who don't know me don't) have eyes to see him and don't know what to look for. But you know Spirit already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you! (John 14, The Message)

Implicit in the way of L'Arche, therefore, is a regular reflection on Scripture as interpreted through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is not the only tool for acquiring eyes to see, of course; but it has been foundational for L'Arche. Sharing Scripture and learning to use it in discernment is one practice given to L'Arche in a spirituality shaped by the church. You can see it manifest in the use of the liturgical calendar to shape our shared celebrations. It guides the words spoken in community prayer. And it informs what it means to be God's people together in community. "How easy it is in our communities," Vanier writes, "to be so caught up in the daily routine that one forgets that people with disabilities are a sign of God's presence... it is easy to forget what is most essential: the communion, the covenant we have been given in Jesus."

Our possessions and our bodies, instead ob being instruments of grace and communion with Jesus, take up all our attention. We rely on our own power or become caught up in our own angers and depressions, rather than relying on Jesus. Rather than building a community founded on the weal - a sign of the love of God - we create a little institution in search of security and recognition. The work of God can very easily be choked, the signs of God extinguished. To bear witness to the gospel, L'Arche needs to drink from the source of life flowing from the church.
(p. 78)

Another practice L'Arche borrows from the church involves playing a part in the
healing of neighborhoods. Embracing the joys and sorrows of those who live next to us - caring for the land, working for justice and peace, being a loving sister or brother to our neighbors - is part of how L'Arche "is integrated into the parishes and local churches."

We need to work hard so that they become beautiful, alive, living fully the riches within them. We need to take our places in local churches, to be open and, through our lives together, bear witness to the fact that love is possible and that a person who suffers from an intellectual disability has a gift to offer others. We need to receive with wonder the gifts of others and be in communion with different religious authorities.
(p. 78)

A third practice born of a spirituality rooted in the church concerns the variety of ways people engage in "the inward journey." Not every one prays the same way. Some of us need solitude. Others blossom through journaling. Some practice walking meditation. Or praying the liturgical hours. Or yoga. Or drumming. "All at whatever stage they are on in their journey are encouraged to open themselves to others by living a life of fraternity, sharing, welcome, generosity and forgiveness. Diversity is a treasure." Just as there are different spiritualities in the church - Benedictine, Franciscan, Quaker, Lutheran, etc. - so too within L'Arche. Also, there are L'Arche homes in Muslim and Hindu cities. There are Roman Catholic, Reformed and Anglican communities, too. Vanier writes that "L'Arche has been increasingly drawn into God's plan for unity: the unity of all human beings and of all Christians."

The vocation to unity is demanding. It demands a certain maturity of heart to be able to welcome and respect others in their particular journey of faith, and to discover that, beneath our differences, much unites us. This is possible only if we are firmly anchored in the love og God and meet each one's heart with respect and love. It also implies that our spirituality be well anchored in good theology. We need to understand what God is calling us to be and to live. (p. 80)



The foundational practice that L'Arche embraces from the church, however, is a calling to love. St. Paul articulated this love as more than a feeling and much more than a passing fancy 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.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
(The Message)

Vanier tells us towards the end of his primer that "it takes a long time to discover unity in ourselves so that we can be a source of unity for others; to welcome our wounds so that we can welcome those of others."

It takes a long time to drop our masks and accept ourselves as we are with all of our limitations, so that we can accept others. To carry on walking down this road, we need to be attentive to God's call and Jesus' promises and to make choices that bring with them the acceptance of loss... If we are to grow in love and remain faithful to Jesus hidden in the poor, and faithful to this vocation to unity, we need a certain discipline. Like athletes who want to win, we need to find the right way to look after ourselves. We cannot remain faithful unless we are nourished spiritually and intellectually; we need the strength of the Holy Spirit, we need the Eucharist, we need to share and help each other in community, but above all we need that nourishment that comes from people who are vulnerable and loving. We need to benefit from the help that spiritual masters through the ages have offered to lead us towards God. There are many pitfalls on the way. We need wise accompaniment. (pp. 81-82)

The practices of a spirituality rooted in the church at L'Arche include: 1) a story and world view that helps us see God's love in action; 2) a trust that just as God was present in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God is with us in times of trial and rejoicing, too; 3) an acceptance of a diversity of spiritual resources to nourish the personal journey inward; 4) a commitment to caring for our neighbors and their well-being; and 5) a dedication to love that empowers us to mature in humility over time.

Jean Vanier has carefully articulated what he has learned, experienced and lived in his small book: The Heart of L'Arche - A Spirituality for Every Day. I have tried to synthesize his reflections in this series so that I might deepen my own commitment to living into the practices of the community. As he writes in the conclusion: "At L'Arche we wish to follow Jesus on this path of littleness, humility and trust. We believe that this path is a path of liberation and joy."

The spirituality of L'Arche is a way of love and friendship with people who are poor and weak. We are called, in Jesus' name, to live with them in a community life that is humble and poor. In eating (together) we discover the beatitude promised by Jesus: "When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind - and you will be blessed." (Luke 14: 14) (Vanier, p. 86)
The spirituality is simple. It is also challenging and thoroughly counter-cultural.

We have learned how we are transformed by weakness. But we are in a culture that believes we are transformed by power. And the tension between weakness and power is in us all... The culture of the United States is a culture of success and of power and of upward mobility. You can see this even in the church in that it's seen as a "promotion" to be named a cardinal. I see it as a demotion! I mean, who would ever want to be a cardinal? (There is) a whole new vision of who God is, a vision of the littleness of God, the weakness of God. God is the most excluded one. Nobody wants (that) God. Oh, yes, we'll always talk about the God of power who is on our side. But a vulnerable God, a fragile God, a God who weeps? (Jean Vanier, U.S. Catholic Vol 71, No. 8, August 2006)

Counter-cultural - and tender, small and open-hearted. In a commentary re: his understanding of gospel according to St. John, Vanier wrote: "the Gospel of John has helped me to give meaning to the "foolishness" of our lives. We need spirituality, spirit, priorities, motivation, and nourishment in order to live every day what appears to many as meaningless. We need also an anthropology and a theology which put words on what we are living."

The Word of God in John allows (us) to enter the places of darkness and anguish within ourselves so that we may enter into transformation. Maybe it is not possible to really enter into the full meaning of the Word of God without living anguish and yearning for transformation through the Spirit of God. (Vanier, Towards Transformational Reading of Scripture, https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/towards-transformational-reading-of-scripture/)

Vanier has come to name the unique charism of L'Arche in a way that evokes the other great spiritual traditions of the Christian Church: the desert mothers and fathers, the way of Benedict and Francis as well as the Catholic Worker. He speaks of L'Arche as a new form of family with its own set of practices:

L'Arche is a family created and sustained by God. Being a family means sharing one spirit, one vision and one spirituality. This is particularly true of a family created by a response to a call from God, without the natural bonds of flesh and blood. A spirituality is a way of life that implies choices and a particular ordering of priorities. The gospel is the source of Christian spirituality, but there are many ways of living out the gospel. Throughout history, according to the needs of particular ages and cultures, the Holy Spirit has called forth men and women to create new families and to bear witness to the love of God, the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • The mystery of Jesus calls us to a table fellowship that breaks down barriers, welcomes the most vulnerable among us and invites us to open our hearts to a tender way of living. 
  • The mystery of the poor shows us God's plan for healing the wounds of the world: shared acts of vulnerability unite rich and poor as equals. 
  • The mystery of community allows ordinary events like cooking, cleaning, laughter and chores to become holy ground where we face our wounds, practice forgiveness and engage in the hard work of tender acceptance. 
  • The mystery of a God who walks with us shows us how from the beginning God has been using all of life - our celebrations as well as our failures - to lead us closer to God and God's love. 
  • And the mystery of a spirituality rooted in the church gives us a story to help us see better grasp how God's grace is at work in our ordinary lives.

In life, in death, in life beyond death: we are not alone. Thank be to God (United Church of Canada Affirmation of Faith.)

Monday, August 20, 2018

a time for humility and penitence in the church...

We spent the past three days feasting with our family. We rejoiced in the good health, vibrant spirit and joyful smile of Anna on her first birthday. We gave thanks to God that she has devoted, loving, disciplined and humble parents. We returned thanks to God for the doctors, nurses and technicians who brought Louie back into the fullness of health this past year, too. 2017 was a time of agonizing uncertainty - and fear - for our family. So, as we all came to live into robust health and love, it felt right to bless little Anna by welcoming her into God's family in the name and grace of Jesus. We were totally ready for feasting: breaking bread,  laughing, sharing stories, prayers and abundant good food is a time-tested way of worshiping what is holy with our bodies - and we did so with gusto.

Upon returning home - and sleeping late the next day - we turned our attention to cutting grass and weeding our garden. I have about 15 pumpkins ripening on the vine. Di has some succulent cukes ready for salad. And the chili peppers are turning red. While I sat in the dirt pulling weeds from the pumpkin vines - and watching fat earth worms wiggle away - the contrast between our little house blessing feast and the on-going horror rocking the American Roman Catholic Church weighed heavy on my heart. I am not suggesting anything except the importance of staying small, grounded and connected to those we love.
Back in 2002, when the Boston Diocese was devastated with revelations of wide-spread rape and sexual abuse by priests, my spiritual director told me, "Perhaps this is the start of the Church's descent into humility. If nothing else, the law suits will finally bankrupt this institution. And then, after a season, maybe the little love of Jesus will return and reign in the Body of Christ." His point was simple: over the centuries, horrible abuse of one type or another has happened before in this religious community (and others) as power and wealth are valued more than compassion and servanthood. When this occurs, the Church kills the spirit and flesh of those it is called to cherish. It becomes an arrogant and cruel institution rather than a community of tenderness. It starts to live like a political and financial power-broker rather than the carpenter from Nazareth.

Many Americans wanted to believe that after the horrors of the Boston diocese were exposed - and addressed in-house and in the courts - things would get better. And, to a certain extent, this has happened. Greater safe guards have been put into place since 2002 and there have been fewer acts of molestation and rape. Some of the codes of silence have also been disrupted, dismantled and discarded. But the news from the Pennsylvania Diocese documents that these changes have been too little and too late. As Pope Francis confessed today: the Church abandoned God's little and vulnerable ones. 

The fundamental flaws in the culture of the Roman Catholic Church guarantee that sexual predators can go undetected - and protected - unless outside forces disrupt the closed system of privilege and secrecy. One news commentator said: We now need 49 other prosecutors in every other state outside of Pennsylvania to go after the institution throughout the USA. This will be painful for everyone. But the rape, molestation, trafficking of children and sexual abuse of children and adolescents has destroyed innocent lives. The sexual predators in the priesthood have violated the trust necessary for living in community. It may be that the only way for deep reform and integrity to emerge in an institution so jaded and removed from the tender love of Jesus is for a fresh start. Already, Roman Catholic laity are asking for the resignation of every US bishop as a sign that corruption will be routed.

This would be an excellent start. But two other realities must be confronted, too. The Jesuit journal, America, recently ran a story hearkening back in 1990, when  scholar A.W. Richard Sipe published:

"A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy," a 25-year study (1960-1985) of the sexual behavior of Catholic clergy. Based on his findings, Sipe concluded that about 50 percent of U.S. priests practiced celibacy at any one time and that about 6 percent -- a figure he later raised to 9 percent -- had sexually abused children. He maintained that the two phenomena were connected, arguing that priests who failed to remain celibate led to hypocrisy and secrecy under which child sexual abuse could occur. His conclusions irritated some within the church, who dismissed them as being based on anecdotal evidence rather than formal research. Others, however, welcomed his work, which they said offered a warning to the U.S. church long before the sexual abuse crisis emerged. (see https://www.americamagazine. org/faith/2018/08/17/aw-richard-sipe-researcher-expert-clergy-sex-abuse-dies-85)

Sipe was eventually dismissed by the Council of American Bishops because his conclusions about celibacy and the Roman Catholic culture of secrecy and privilege were so provocative. He was, however, called as an expert witness in 223 cases of clergy abuse between 1988 and 2010. His witness - and research - make clear that when vulnerable and broken human beings are not held accountable for their actions, all hell breaks loose. It becomes even more evil and vulgar when spiritual privilege and power over innocent bodies and minds are manipulated as has been the case for hundreds of years. In addition to tackling the legacy of secrecy, the Roman Catholic Church is being called by God to find new ways of celebrating a healthy 21st century sexuality - including a radically new appreciation of women in the world of the church. 

Please know I am not demonizing my beloved friends in the Roman Catholic Church. I genuinely love these sisters and brothers. I have been blessed by their wisdom and guidance all of my professional life. I have con-celebrated Eucharist back in the day, learned the way of prayer from Catholic spiritual directors and sung with vigor the Liturgy of the Hours. Perhaps now it is time for the once noble institution to be humbled and start to rebuild from the ground up. Not like the often vitriolic and adolescent arrogant purity of the Protestant Reformation. But rather like St. Peter whom Jesus told after betraying the Lord: when you were young you went where you wanted; but now that you are old, another will gird your loins and lead you into those places you do not want to journey. 

That is my prayer as this day comes to a close.

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.

playing for our lives: a concert to combat local homelessness June 15 @ 7 pm

In an interview with Krista Tippett a few years ago, the late Jean Vanier gave contemporary people of compassion his antidote for despair:...