TUESDAYS WITH JEAN, WEEK 1 (6/26): LOVE THROUGH THE SIMPLE THINGS
Excerpt from The Heart of L’Arche: A spirituality for everyday (pg. 56-58)
After spending time at L’Arche, many assistants agree that living a simple life with people with intellectual disabilities has transformed them. Frequently, they have grown up in a world of conflict and competition in which they had to put on masks and be tough. At L’Arche, they learn to drop their defenses, to be vulnerable and to be themselves. Although it is demanding, living a practical life close to other people seems to make them happy. I remember an assistant who had been at L’Arche for two years telling me that, although he had never been so happy in his life, he had to leave. That many people find themselves in this position shows that community life, though beautiful, involves struggle and grief.
The media – especially television – breed a longing for novelty, powerful experiences, and grand gestures. To remain faithful to small things without having first made one’s fortune seems regressive.
The community life we live at L’Arche with people who are weak is rooted in simple, material things: cooking meals, spending time together at table, washing the dishes, doing the laundry and the houseworks, helping meetings to go smoothly: thousands of little things that all take time. These little things can often be seen as insignificant and valueless. However, all these small gestures can become gestures of love that help create a warm atmosphere in which the communion of hearts can grow. In this way, community life becomes a school of love.
In community life, it is obviously necessary to have people who are in charge, people with vision who help keep the community unified. However, the less conspicuous people also play an essential role: they love tenderly, take time to live with people, give them baths, prepare their meals. Because they live so close to the people with disabilities, they are instruments of love. L’Arche communities try to be loving, happy places.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds his disciples that, without love, the search for great things leads nowhere. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (Corinthians 13:4-7)
I often find myself trying to fit as many things into my agenda as I can because I have conditioned myself to believe that a full schedule makes me successful. However, I feel like my days pass quickly and I have a hard time being present in the moment. Even taking five minutes to relax and breathe helps me take note of my surroundings and the nuances of life that I often miss. What are the simple things in your life? What and who are normally lost in the background? What am I missing?