Sunday, August 30, 2009

Finishing Up

My time here at the Maranatha House of L'Arche Stratford is coming to end. In this packed cocktail of emotions I am experiencing, I've deemed my time here very valuable and freeing. As I am writing this, everyone is in bed except Neil who just got up to put some random items in his room out into the hall. He does this every night, and over the months here I've come to understand this action as more than a humourous ritual, but as something that makes Neil really unique. The way the Neil and the other members of this household comfortably live out their uniqueness and faithfulness to who they really are creates not only troubles at times, but also a great environment where I as an assistant can receive a deep gift from them. That gift is permission for me to embrace who I am a deep level. It's a gift found in the radicalism of the core members, and how they live their lives of what Henri Nouwen describes as "passion". I leave here with the sadness of friendships that have been so life giving to me ending, but in the coming distance I know I will grow to value and hold onto the gifts everyone has given me here even more than I ever could here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Richard Rohr on Contemplation

"Without a daily contemplative stance, I would have given up on the church, America, many people, and surely myself a long time ago. Without a daily contemplative practice, I would likely be a cynical and even negative person by now, but by Somebody’s Kindness, I am not. With contemplative eyes, I can live with a certain non-dual consciousness that often allows me to be merciful to the moment, patient with human failure, and generous toward the maddening issues of our time. For me, it is the very shape of Christian salvation or any salvation. My sadness is that so few have been taught this older and wiser tradition, although many still come to it by great love and great suffering."
-Richard Rohr

I will share more of Rohr's ideas when I get my book back from Randell.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Importance of Celebration

I think L'Arche over-values celebration, this can be surmised given the amount of cake I've eaten in just the past week.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Peter Maurin: Apostle To The World

Although, I haven't really read much of his writings and I would say my grasp on this ideas are pretty basic. Most of my understanding comes from a synthesis of his ideas written by others. But from what I have read, I find that Maurin offers an insightful and fundamental guide for what it means to be a Christian in pursuit of social justice. His ideas have provided me with the beginnings of a basis for understanding the experiences and stories of people I meet daily on the margins of society. He provides a vision of inclusion, rooted in Christian spirituality that for me provides an anchor for belief, as I often struggle to find faith to be relevant in this day in age. In many ways, we can describe Maurin as a modern day prophet. Maurin was a French peasant who emigrated to Canada and then the United States in search of his Christian vocation. He is likely best known has being a co-founder with Dorothy Day and the source of the personalist philosophy of the Catholic Worker Movement. Maurin falls within a Franciscan tradition of voluntary poverty, which Maurin expanded upon to mean a village economy, where crafts, farming, and a personal way of life could be established. The foundation of this life is a religious affirmation from which flow prayer and communal sharing. Poverty, in Maurin's view, opened one to the call of God and neighbor and made the person and the community dependent on both. For me this is significant as it gives legitimacy to a focus on social order and figuring out what it means to live missionary in regards to influencing and changing society as whole. Maurin thought that the social order had a singular mission: to protect and nurture the person's journey toward the mystery of God, thus promoting the possibility of salvation. The social order existed to mirror and express the spiritual dimensions of the person. The trappings of an order built for itself--large-scale industry affluence, and militarism--that we live in today are certainly elements of structural sin, that most of Christianity fails to even acknowledge. For Maurin the Catholic tradition provided the resources for personal and societal transformation. Jesus is at the center of this transformation, and to thus believe is to enter a new life of love and service. A person who follows Jesus is intimately involved in the life of a people who have been called to transform self and bid others to enter that transformation. Communities of Christians are formed precisely for these reasons; to praise God, to order personal life, and to reorder the large social life. For me, the spiritual life of these communities rooted in the story of Jesus and the traditions that have evolved from his life and death offer a rootedness providing for a profound level of renunciation commitment and sacrifice. Perhaps this can be seen here at L'Arche, where many for deeply religious reasons have commited themselves to lifetimes of living amongst people with devepmental disabilities. Even just from my four months here, I have gained a deep appreciation for what that kind of commitment entails. As I move out to Vancouver, I look forward to a deeper experience of what it means to live in a community similar to what Maurin advocates for. Keep reading my blog as I hope to share some of these experiences with you.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Spiritual Roots of Environmental Desecration

Ivan Illich, describes the environmental desecration that we are witnessing as being rooted in "a corruption in man's self-image". This assertion brings up very different implications than the "simple survival" motive for political action in defense of the environment. Illich says that the only solution to such a crisis is people learning to work together and care for each other. This can be deomstrated in that idea that its the same tools that destroy the environment also injure social relations. Our environmental destruction is a symptom of the deeper insolation that we have shaped ourselves into. Illich further expands upon this idea but discussing the difference between hope and expectation. Illich describes Hope, in its strong sense, means a trusting faith in the goodness of nature, it centres desire on a person from whom we await a gift. Expectation on the other hand means reliance on a results which are planned and controlled by man, a predictable process which will procude what we have the right to claim. Expectation results in the idea that "Man can do what God cannot, namely manipulate others for their own salvation". Illich points the many "tools" like our education, healthcare, and transportations systems, as well as capitalist industrial logic in general as being focused on expectation rather than hope. Are not these type of systems (or "tools" as illich terms them) built with little or no respect for the limits that the environment needs to exist? Are not these systems the ones that contribute to the isolation we experience in our society? How do we move our society from being structured around expectation, to one of hope which fosters "autonomous and creative intercourse between persons"? Such questions are not easily answered, but hopefully this is a starting point. Illich who comes from a faith background, hints at religion as one element that can provide a deep rootedness that can strongly counter many of the ills we experience today.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Letter From Vanier

continuing with my theme of L'Arche, I just thought I would share with you a letter from Jean Vanier published in our newsletter:

Our greatest all " to help each person become more human and governed by less fear. It is about keeping an open heart, creating communities where we truly love one another despite our differences and where we become a source of hope for another and where we celebrate life. It is also discovering how faith in God and the Gospel can help us become more loving, move giving and not bow down to the tyranny of normality: being strong and beautiful, fleeing from suffering and discarding the weak. The greatest value of L'Arche, like Faith and Light, is to show that weak people are not only important, but that they have a message for society and the Church. If we enter into a relationship and trust with them, they can transform us and become a souce of unity among Christians, and among men and women of different religions, or who have no religion. They truly have a prophetic role.""

Sunday, July 26, 2009


The room I am staying at L'Arche, has a wall hanging on it that shows 5 different things: hope, home, healing, love, celebration. Although some people think this hanging is really ugly, I have found it a simple but profound summary of some of the deeply shaping aspects of L'Arche. Most significantly the experience of home, even though it is a temporary one has been important for me.
The parable of the master who put on a feast, in which only the poor and the destitute came as all the others made excuses has been especially important for me this summer. I've began to value at a more deeper spiritual level some of my friendships with 'poor' people. Up until recently such friendships have been mostly with street people that I worked with for the last 4 years in downtown Kitchener. It's interesting to now make friends with a different set of poor people. The experience is very different, and reminds me of the diversity that can exist within the kingdom of God. I find that experience of home has been very significant for me. The core members are saved from destitution because they have a safe and loving (although flawed) place that they can call home. At L'Arche, I've been able to come to a better understanding of how a home can function, especially for those who might not have a a good opportunity to have a place of belonging, a home. Here at Maranatha, visitors often see home experienced most deeply in the core member's rooms. They are covered with photos and other memorabilia that build an atmosphere of love, a place where the core member is reminded of his/her own uniqueness and the loving community that surrounds them. Each room is far from the bland institutional layout of other homes, and is as unique as the core member. In Maranatha, we regularily celebrate things, the anniversary of when the core member came to L'Arche or their birthday are big celebrations. Welcoming guests is another big event, and everone in the house does things to ensure the visitor feels comfortable and welcome. These core members have a deep history in this home with some of them living together for over 20 years. There is a deep rootedness in the home that is cause for fun celebration. This rootedness can have its flaws though, the rountines established over many years, provide familiarity for the members of the house, but can also hinder any growth or autonomy in the space. The cycle of assistants who tend to stay for short periods of time takes its toll for the core members who have to frequently experience the grief of a lost relationship. But despite these, L'Arche provides a home that prevents the deep isolation, social exclusion, and transience, that many of the people I got to know in Kitchener experienced. I feel that the experience of 'home' should be something everyone should have, and even those who think they have home, by coming to L'Arche may come to a deep sense of appreciation for their homes and the people in them.