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 "..is 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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

the Essence of Trosly

Young people like myself who are finding their identity and trying to navigate the shifting tides that are our culture often put enormous amounts of hope that someone -a mentor, a pastor, a soul friend, a staff worker, spiritual director or guru- can help us to make sense of our confusion and show us a path where we can become whole, free and at peace. We look to people with wisdom, insight, life experience and spiritual sensitivity. The author Henri Nouwen suggests that these types of relationships often subtly or not so subtly become unhealthy. The receiver expects too much, and the giver wants to give too much. One person becomes dependent and the other becomes controlling. Instead, Nouwen points to a person with a developmental disability as potentially a qualified spiritual guide that has few of the risks associated with the previously descibed relationship. People with intellectual disabilities can offer the opportunity for others to connect themselves with their inner selves, their communities and their God on profound levels. This was what Jean Vanier soon discovered as he invited 2 people with intellectual disabilities to come live with him in community. Here at L'Arche Stratford, we often talk about people with disabilities as acting sort of as mirrors. In our daily interactions, they often to can reflect ourselves to us and the result isn't always pretty. When a core member at my house gets angry, I often become very irked as I realize his behaviour reflects some deep inner anger I have. But in his deep vulnerability this core member has also led me down the path that I hope will lead me to my healing. This I believe was the essense of Trosly, that people with disabilities can be spiritual guides to us. Many of my friends have read Jean Vanier and have learned from his ideas. It has been a deep blessing for me to come here even for just a short period of time, and receive an experiential taste of what Vanier writes.