L'Arche and the Journey of the Magi
A Reflection by L'Arche Chicago Assistant Kendall Batten Kalantzis
As we enter into the liturgical season of Epiphany, we open ourselves up to freshness, brilliance, and illumination. I always welcome this season, especially in the midst of dark and cold January days. Brightness and manifestation are exactly what I need. Richard Rohr, a contemporary Franciscan mystic, speaks of epiphanies as not necessarily something new, but as something that up to now had been avoidable. Now it is unavoidable – it is present before us.
A primary text of the Epiphany season is the journey of the wise men in Matthew. As I sat with this story and considered how it spoke to me, I saw my own journey with L’Arche mirrored in the journey of the magi. Perhaps this parallel will hold for others, too.
The wise men left their palaces, jobs, and ways of life for something as ethereal as a rumor, a prophecy, and the guidance of a star. Reflect back to what brought you to L’Arche in the first place. Perhaps it was a story from someone or something you read. Perhaps you were searching for something for yourself or someone you loved. We, like the wise men, had the curiosity and the boldness to set out on this journey.
And we surely had expectations, like the wise men did - they were intent on discovering a powerful ruler. I can recall my expectations before coming to L’Arche. It was a perfect haven of community. Everything kind of “glowed.” (Cue a cringe at my idealism). What did you expect to find at L’Arche? And then the wise men show up and they discover a poor baby wrapped in rags in a barn! Maybe we went through that stage with L’Arche too, a bit of a surprise, a bit of a reality-check. The glamour wasn’t there and instead there were a lot of dishes. I certainly needed to re-adjust my expectations. Yet the text in Matthew says the wise men felt great joy, which is often one of the first experiences of L’Arche I think, despite its imperfections.
And we know the wise men showed up with lavish gifts. I wonder if the wise men felt foolish as they handed over a rare ointment when what the poor holy family clearly needed was proper accommodations. Perhaps it was the same with us. Maybe we showed up to L’Arche with our neatly wrapped gifts and skills to offer: “I’m kind,” or “I’m a great communicator.” Then we got here and realized that what is being asked of us is on an entirely different scale then we could have imagined. Maybe some of the things we thought we were great at are things we need the most help with. Maybe we are discovering and being asked to offer gifts we never thought we had.
Yet I think the greatest parallel between the journey to L’Arche and the journey of the magi is discovering the deep mystery of God present in the most unexpected way, in the lives of the most vulnerable. They are our spiritual teachers.
And especially the Core Members' bodies and our bodies - the physicality of our shared life. A theme of Epiphany is incarnation – God is tangible now, a tiny fussy baby. For me one of the deepest spiritual themes of L’Arche is that God is present in all the embodied, perhaps mundane things we do, mopping and laundry, cooking and hugs. Surely that was a part of Mary’s experience too.
Interestingly, we never know what happened to the wise men. We know they “went home another way.” This could be a literal change in route or a metaphor for a transformed life. And what about us: where will our journey with L’Arche lead us? How has it impacted us? This is a question that is unfolding for each one of us who has had the joy of journeying with L’Arche for a while. Maybe it is a question that will be brought to light a bit more this season.
Reflection by Kendall Batten Kalantzis