Monday, August 22, 2016

A Visit with L'Arche

One of the highlights for me from our first stay in Wroclaw was visiting the L'Arche community there.

L'Arche was founded by Jean Vanier in the 1960s in France, and communities have spread around the world. A L'Arche community is a home, a dwelling, for those with intellectual disabilities and those without, living together and working together.

In this video, Vanier describes his vision for L'Arche. In a world that eliminates people in order to eliminate pain, he says we should instead work to overcome the pain. In the process we discover that God Himself is all about calling people into relationship, about forming community.




After getting a general introduction to L'Arche as an international movement, we split into small groups and visited with the people living there. Later we regathered for a very fun time playing games with parachutes.

In the video, Vanier talks about how he learned that the people he met with disabilities craved relationship. I was struck by two people I met there. One was a woman who sat near me while we played with the parachutes. She spoke to me in slow, simple English, and after we were done there, she invited me to see the room where she lives. I went with her, and she showed me her pictures of flowers and plants that gave her joy, her new purse, photos of her in gardens -- all of her joys. All the while she spoke to me in English. Throughout the trip, I had a profound appreciation for anyone who spoke to me in English, but this woman in particular was putting forth what seemed to be her greatest effort of the day in order to speak with me. It was a gift that left me struggling to know how to worthily receive it, but I knew the answer was simply to receive it with the same joy with which it was offered to me.

The other person was a man who liked to stand close to people. It has happened to me more than once when I am in a setting like this that a man with some intellectual disability will simply come straight up to me and tell me I am beautiful. This man was speaking in Polish, but he communicated by picking up my hair and admiring it, and following me closely. One of his L'Arche housemates helped him find a more socially acceptable distance. While again for a moment I was not exactly sure how to respond, down deep there is something about that frankness that I love, in a world that is so much about posturing and self-reproof and trying to make ourselves acceptable to others.

I don't want to make trite, patronizing conclusions. I do want to observe that it is very difficult for people to truly stay with each other as peers in pain, not caretakers nor the cared-for merely, but truly knowing our pain and the pain of the other.  This is why, I believe, that throughout history as societies have grown dark, greedy, and selfish, the only real hope for salvation has been the love of God expressed through Christians living their lives together in this type of community that has experienced God calling into relationship with Him, and also knowing how to extend that invitation to hearts desperately longing for love, acceptance, belonging, and life.

Right now, right here, we need this more than ever.

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