Author’s note: Our sympathies to the L’Arche International communities who are mourning the loss of their founder today (May 7, 2019). Click here for a full obituary in the Washington Post.
As a writer and a counselor, I’ve encountered thousands of people. Only a few, though, have invited me to explore my experience of presence and community in deeper ways. One of those invitations was through the L’Arche, a community for people with intellectual disabilities.
L’Arche Founder Jean Vanier was interviewed recently for the On Being podcast with Krista Tippet. This podcast took me back to my encounter with a L’Arche Community in Clinton, Iowa, one of 168 communities in 37 countries.
Life’s existential questions
Vanier’s establishment of the L’Arche communities was his practical approach to answering the existential questions of:
- What does it mean to be fully human?
- What does it mean to serve others well?
- How can unity be fostered among diverse people?
The L’Arche homes offer marginalized individuals a safe space to share their gifts which then have a transformative effect on personal and interpersonal healing and unity. The mutual flow of friendship and love between people with disabilities and people without disabilities strengthens each person’s sense of resilience and worth.
The nature of God shown in relationships
My evening many years ago in the L’Arche home was scheduled around dinner. Residents returned from their jobs at a sheltered workshop and took on their assigned responsibilities of running a home. Cooking and eating dinner is the daily community building activity between the core members and the assistants. Afterwards, everyone came to the living room, sat in a circle, and discussed their day’s experiences and engaged in a time of prayer.
Assistants who seek out the work do so for different reasons. The director at the time of my visit, JoAnne Horstmann, described that L’Arche “can answer needs on different levels. We learn about the nature of God through our relationships with other people.”
Jesus found his way to the marginalized and sat and ate with them and healed them. Sometimes, Jesus healed people from their disabling conditions, such as the man with blindness. Yet his acceptance of people as they came to him was his most healing action. This unconditional acceptance is the cornerstone of the L’Arche’s mission as an independent living community for adults with intellectual disabilities to live in supported independence.
Sometimes, the greatest treasures in life come in modest packages. If you are willing to risk and open a gift in unassuming wrapping you may be surprised to discover that what’s inside has a value greater than gold.
If you are giving care to someone with special needs and are seeking assistance in finding resources, please contact New Thought, Right Action.
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Copyright 2019 Brenda Henning