This is my attempt to make a Sparknotes version of an 11 page single spaced reflection that I had written after coming back from the best decision I have made since coming to Creighton.
I joined a group with seven other girls to go to L’Arche Community in Clinton, Iowa. L’Arche is an international organization started by Jean Vanier that houses and helps support those with mental disabilities. This L’Arche community was composed of three different houses, each with about 4 or 5 core members (Core members= those with the mental handicaps because “core” means the heart, so the core members are the heart of the community.) We didn’t “work” with the core members. We “shared life” with the core members. (Isn’t that precious?)
So during the day when the core members were either at work or day-hab, we cleaned their houses, had lunch and a three hour break, then we shared life and assisted with miscellaneous tasks when the core members got home at night. Through the hours of being in the core members’ presence, I learned a few things and was reaffirmed in other things.
The core members are the definition of beautiful. They are the pure essentials of what the human spirit is; the shaved down necessities of the soul. They are innocent and vulnerable, simplistic in their ways, but complex in their understandings, they are human. There was a wide spectrum of core members’ abilities to take care of themselves; some able to cook on their own while others could barely sit up and make an understandable sound. But they all know something about love. They give it so unconditionally, freely, and relentlessly. There was one core member that particularly touched me. She must be in her late 60’s, early 70’s. She suffers from dementia and autism. She does not speak in an understandable language, she grabs at things that aren’t there, she can’t walk, and she can’t feed herself. But despite all these inabilities, she responds to love. We got along well, I think, because of the softness of our natures. We shared an unspeakable connection, the “ebb and flow” of love between two people. They are nonjudgmental unlike the world that judges them. Some of them are such hams with personalities that are so bold and hilarious but just as any imperfect person, they also had their moments of tantrums or stubbornness. They are multifaceted and I underestimated the breadth of their understanding and sense of self.
“They” are just like “us.” “We,” although all mentally capable, are different from each other with different personalities and widths and depths and breadths. “They” are different from each other as well with their own personalities, senses of humor, and understanding. It is these differences that make us not so different. In the words of a sister that we met, “God does not create lepers. We create lepers. We create the divide.”
The other people that make up the L’Arche community are the assistants (who I must say are SUPERSTARS!) They do not go to work for they live the lifestyle of love that is necessary to care for the core members. The assistants were incredibly open and accommodating for our service group. Some shared life stories, moving experiences, and their backgrounds– something that struck me as unusual since I am more of a private person. But in retrospect, I think it was necessary that we all be open with each other, which we achieved as the week progressed, because of the trust that was beneath the incredible sense of community. I imagined that must be what heaven would be like, or at least what heaven would be like on Earth; an unshakable trust and openness and vulnerability to one another but each having the heart not to destroy the other.
The community showed me the definition of the verse “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) It reminded me that everyone has a purpose, even those that society forgets about or ignores, and it may come in an unconventional but important way. A lot of us, including myself sometimes, say that “my purpose is to (insert which professional you’d like to be/great awe inspiring act you’d like to do here)” But the core members would respond “my purpose is to be the vessel of God’s love. My purpose is to show others how to love.”
Now I know I have been using the L word a lot in this message and I hope that I am not desensitizing you to the profound meaning of it. But I cannot find another word that describes and encompasses everything that is being fostered in the L’Arche community.
“Loving someone does not simply mean doing things for them; it is much more profound. To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance; it is to understand them, understand their cries and their body language; it is to rejoice in their presence, spend time in their company and communicate with them. To love is to live a heart-to-heart relationship with another, giving to and receiving from each other.”
I leave you with two more quotes, that they may sum up my L’Arche experience but also encourage us as the Cortina Community to aspire to be.
“Happiness is accepting and choosing life, not just submitting grudgingly to it. It comes when we choose to be who we are, to be ourselves, at this present moment of our lives; we choose life as it is, with all its joys, pain, and conflicts. Happiness is living and seeking the truth, together with others in community, and assuming responsibility for our lives and the lives of others. It is accepting the fact that we are not infinite, but can enter into a personal relationship with the Infinite, discovering the universal truth and justice that transcends all cultures: each person is unique and sacred. We are not just seeking to be what others want us to be or to conform to the expectations of family, friends, or local ways of being. We have chosen to be who we are, with all that is beautiful and broken in us. We do not slip away from life and live in a world of illusions, dreams, or nightmares. We become present to reality and to life so that we are free to live according to our personal conscience, our sacred sanctuary, where love resides within us and we see others as they are in the depth of their being. We are not letting the light of life within us be crushed, and we are not crushing it in others. On the contrary, all we want is for the light of others to shine.”
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ appointed it. This is why it says: “When he ascendec on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Ephesians 4: 1- 16
P.S. I’m more than open to sharing and chatting about the other tenbillion pages of my reflection with those who are interested and listening to your insights as well.
❤ Megan M