The Heart of LArche: A spirituality for every day

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The Heart of L'arche a Spirituality for Every Day by Jean Vanier 9780281069910

Friday, August 3, the spirituality of l'arche - part three. In my days as a pastor, I often discovered two surprises: 1 many of the faithful did not know how to pray; and 2 these same dedicated servants rarely, if ever, spoke about their inner experiences with the holy. At first I was bewildered: how could this be true - even while at church - that no one talked about God's love and how it had touched their hearts? It wasn't as if my friends hadn't encountered the presence of the sacred in their lives.

They had - many times over. Still, they had been trained to keep such things to themselves.

Jean Vanier (1928-12222): Living L'Arche—Ottawa's 'school of the heart'

In silence. So, while visiting in their homes, I took it upon myself to ask about the different ways they had experienced something of the Lord. And once given just a hint of encouragement, the stories came tumbling out. Eventually, we dedicated the first 20 minutes of every church meeting to listening to these stories.

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We then put aside fretting about budgets, personnel, etc. In time, we set out to teach one another how to pray, too: we explored quiet, contemplative prayer; structured and public liturgical prayer; using hymns as prayer prompts; and even extended times of quiet meditation.

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In other words, we practiced spiritual formation. Once we owned that there was a gap in the maturation of our faith community, we could chart a course of correction. Using Erikson's paradigm as well as the wisdom of Piaget and Kohlberg, James Fowler and others have suggested that faith development shares a comparable hierarchy of maturation.

Jean Vanier, a theologian of the everyday

We start by mirroring what our families teach us, move into a season of mythical literalism, explore skepticism, etc. The core members, as the people who have intellectual disabilities are called, are at the heart of the home.

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The assistants represent diverse cultural and religious traditions and may come from various countries. In the sharing of life together, each one also grows in self-understanding and understanding of others. Decisions concerning home life are made as much as possible at a weekly house meeting. While government and related standards are fully adhered to, much effort goes into encouraging mutuality in relationships.

There is a sense of shared ownership for the life and spirit of welcome that is typical of our households. In our communities, meals are often times of laughter and celebration. The table is set attractively.

The Heart of L’Arche: A Spirituality for Every Day | Jean Vanier

Attention is given to seating so that those who need support have someone near them, and assistance is given with dignity and without undue attention. Conversation includes everyone.

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Each person has an opportunity to participate as they are able, perhaps helping pass various items, and to share about their day. The spiritual dimension is important: Grace is said or sung at the beginning of a meal and after the meal there is usually a simple time of prayer.