The secret of L’Arche is relationship: meeting people, not through the filters of certitudes, ideologies, idealism or judgments, but heart to heart; listening to people with their pain, their joy, their hope, their history, listening to their heart beats.
– Jean Vanier, L’Arche founder
Two things I’ve found that tend to make people uncomfortable are (1) being around the disabled and (2) talking about God. This episode has both and the two are not unrelated.
Prior to visiting this house and even during the initial visit I was uncomfortable being around the ‘core members’ – L’Arche’s term for the disabled members of each household. During our interview, Rita (the young assistant) said that this was natural, “All normal social interaction goes out the window with the core members, there’s no filter, it’s all emotion.” And while I think that that may be a part of why I was uncomfortable I think another piece is that to interact with the core members is to rest one hand firmly on the barrier that separates the normally-abled with the disabled. You feel the struggle to communicate you feel the urge to be understood and you see all the ways in which the disability prevents that very understanding. You repeat your words and you ask for words to be repeated.
If the interactions were to end there –with frustrations and a sense of nothing more than the barrier between the two of you — then the feeling of discomfort might make more sense. But humans are adaptable creatures and the desire to relate to one another is innate. This is one of the beauties of L’Arche. if you spend enough time with someone (anyone) you’ll find a way to communicate. And sure enough another form of communication emerges — through touch and pauses and looks and the energy you carry in your chest. And through this way of interacting a kind of holistic, (small ‘c’) catholic, whole-body conversation begins.
I found this way of relating to be as calming as it was intense. Your focus to both your internal world and your external world becomes more acute. It’s an incredibly calming and peaceful experience. My hope is that this finished piece reflects that movement from a kind of uncomfortable chaos to a place of sustained quiet that comes about for reasons that aren’t entirely understood.
A few notes about the piece:
- I first came to know about L’Arche and Jean Vanier through this interview that was done by Krista Tippet for the NPR show Speaking of Faith.
- For more information on L’Arche or to donate or volunteer please visit the website, www.larcheusa.org
- I’ve gotten a lot of questions about this piece, so I’ll probably do another post on it. If there’s anything you’d like to know you can always email me.