L’Arche is a place of belonging

Evangeline Smith

Published 7 November 2017

When I landed back in Chicago and turned on my phone I had a text waiting for me from my sweet friend Sarah Ruszkowski asking me how my weekend trip to Texas was. I quickly responded saying, “It was so good to be there, to share time with my best friend, but there’s a deep joy too about coming home.”

And she texted back, “I’m so glad! Could you write about that? Could you write about belonging?”

I find myself saying often, “I feel a deep sense of purpose and belonging in L’Arche.”

This experience of belonging is felt, most tangibly for me, when I take trips away from community. I experience it in my housemate’s ability to send me off well, and to welcome me back with these beautifully open arms. There’s a required security and trust involved in sending people off and welcoming them back with love.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to travel to Scotland. I participated in a retreat about Celtic Theology with a wise group of individuals. Throughout the week I found myself walking and eating with strangers and telling them stories of my housemates, these people who have profoundly impacted how I see and feel God. At the end of the week we sat in a circle and shared how we would bring the material of our time together forward into our “real” lives. People shared how they felt empowered to be part of a social justice group, or to mend their broken relationship with their mother. When it came to me I realized I didn’t have anything all that tangible to offer. My unrehearsed answer was, “I think I’m just going to go back home and keep learning how to love those people well.”

There’s no need for the word “just” because it is this radical thing— to spend a life with a community, and to practice loving them well is worthy work. It was after saying that in a circle of newly-not-strangers that I felt grounded in my call to live L’Arche. And it comes back to my sense of belonging, and my sense of purpose.

As my time in Scotland wrapped up I felt a deep peace. I felt grateful for the experience to travel and see a part of the world that makes you believe in God because you feel real small in its grandness. My gratefulness was heightened when I thought about what I was going home to. Home to the people that have held me, and taught me, and annoyed me, and loved me so well in the past year and a half.

I got off the plane and was greeted by Annie, an assistant in Peace House. She quickly provided me with Chipotle and more leg room than I’d had in the past 12 hours. When I walked into Friendship House it smelled like banana bread because Kendall, an assistant that shares time at Friendship House, had baked vegan muffins to celebrate my homecoming. I quickly went to hug a giggling Chris and bask in the goodness that is this home.

Homecoming. Belonging. It’s this ability to be sent off well, and to be welcomed home with beautifully open arms.