Interfaith Voices: An Interview with David Li and Elisha Preston
The Charter of the Communities of L’Arche states: “In a divided world, L’Arche wants to be a sign of hope. Its communities, founded on covenant relationships between people of differing intellectual capacity, social origin, religion and culture, seek to be signs of unity, faithfulness and reconciliation.
… Each community member is encouraged to discover and deepen his or her spiritual life and live it according to his or her particular faith and tradition. Those who have no religious affiliation are also welcomed and respected in their freedom of conscience.”
In this interview, we turned to David Li and Elisha Preston of L’Arche Chicago to find out how they are living this statement on a daily basis.
In what faith tradition did you grow up?
Why is your tradition important to you as an adult?
Elisha: “It means grace. Jewish means grace.”
David: “It shows me what love is and I believe that when we love others, we love God.”
Are you part of a faith community outside of L’Arche? What is the name of the community?
Elisha: “Yes, I go to the Oak Park Temple on Friday evenings.”
David: “Yes, I go to Church of the Savior on Saturday evenings.”
How do you share your faith with your housemates at L’Arche?
Elisha: “We go to the ‘beach house’ [where Elisha grew up] and it’s great-we celebrate Passover with Seder meals, Shabbat, prayer, and Chanukah.”
David: “We eat and pray together, light candles for the Menorah, put up Christmas decorations, read Jewish and Christian reflections and celebrate anniversaries. Every day is an opportunity to dance together, regardless of our specific faith backgrounds. We, as people of God, openly welcome spiritual growth through music, meditation, and the interactions throughout our routines.”
Elisha, why is Passover important to you? How does L’Arche help you remember and celebrate this day?
Elisha: “We eat Matzah [and] bitter herbs. We party [and] sing and eat some more!”
David: Passover as explained by Elisha and his mother was a beautiful picture of how we ultimately are a sign to others of redemption. Each dish symbolized something unique to thank God for. Each person seated at the table was invited to participate by virtue of presence and by identifying with the symbols. Elisha recited prayers that he knew from his youth. We all broke the Matzah bread. As we did so, we recited those same prayers through our actions.
David, what is an important event in your faith tradition? How does L’Arche help you remember and celebrate that day?
David: “Christmas is easily my favorite time of year. Not only is it the time of cheer and gift exchange, but it is also the beginning of Christ’s personhood on Earth. Elisha sings Christmas carols and helps decorate the tree with just as much excitement as every other holiday. His singing, his stories, and his laughter made this Christmas incredibly special. Elisha is my family and together, I imagine we remind each other of God’s presence.”
Seeing Elisha’s enthusiasm is contagious and encourages me to discover how to see God in a new way.
Why is it important to you to celebrate each other’s religious days?
Elisha: “We tell stories. It’s great because of stories.” [David: Elisha loves asking whether we are coming to Shabbat, a Seder meal, or Wednesday prayer. During these instances, Elisha shares why he enjoys celebrating with his L’Arche friends.]
David: “Celebrating Chanukah and Passover with Elisha was the first time I participated in a Jewish tradition. Although I grew up in an area with a lot of Jewish influence, Elisha helps me understand the beauty of celebrating these days. As a community, we come from all walks of life, especially when it comes to our spirituality. Seeing Elisha’s enthusiasm is contagious and encourages me to discover how to see God in a new way.”
What has being part of L’Arche taught you about getting along with people who have a different faith tradition than yours?
Elisha: “Prayer.” [David: We eat together, pray together. Doing things together invites us to see and appreciate our different faiths.]
David: “Learning to allow our faith traditions to shape our view of God, of each other, and how we live in community. For instance, prayer nights on Wednesday are some of my favorite times at Peace House because we are gently reminded to put aside our worries and find peace through silence, meditation, and song. We pray for different things and in doing so, our attention focuses on each other instead of ourselves.”
What do you think the rest of the world can learn from the way you and your housemates celebrate each other’s traditions?
Elisha: “Peace. Prayer. It’s great.”
David: “What Elisha said. We’re a sign to each other and although we are different in how we serve God, one thing’s for certain, our love is dynamic. There’s a Peter, Paul, and Mary cover called ‘Don’t Let the Light Go Out,’ and we sang this song during Chanukah. Amen to that. Let’s bring light wherever we are.”