When I expressed interest in coming to live at L’Arche Heartland, in the email that I sent I wrote this lengthy paragraph or two about how I had become interested in Henri Nouwen’s writing, and my good friend suggested I read Nouwen’s book “Adam: God’s Beloved.” So I did, and I immediately fell in love with the idea of L’Arche.
After that I looked for just about every book I could find that was written about L’Arche. I read more of Nouwen’s work, and I read books by Jean Vanier, the man who founded L’Arche. I read a book by Sue Mosteller, who was the community leader at L’Arche Daybreak when Henri Nouwen was there and she was also the international coordinator of L’Arche after Jean Vanier.
When the community coordinator of L’Arche Heartland got back to me, he said that people who learn about L’Arche through the writings of Nouwen and Vanier can sometimes be disappointed in the reality of community life once they arrive.
Both of these authors have had a lot of experience living in community, and their writing is often full of wonder and deep spirituality. But when someone moves into a L’Arche community and is faced with the day-to-day life with the people in their homes, they quickly learn that it can differ from what they’ve read in the books.
I’ve noticed that many of my blog entries share some of the more uplifting or holy moments, or as a friend would say the “kumbayah moments.” And sure, they are there. I wouldn’t be able to write about them if they weren’t. But the reality is, those moments are only a portion of what happens in my house.
There are meals to make, dishes to clean, floors to sweep, toilets to plunge, messes to clean up, people to drive to work, people to pick up from work, medication to be administered, documentation to be filled out, groceries to be bought, cars to be filled with gas, laundry to be washed, garbage to be emptied, ledgers to be balanced, etc., etc.
And then sometimes, in the midst of that, I manage to catch a glimpse of something, or to hear someone say a word or phrase that strikes me in a different way. Sometimes I’m lucky to be aware enough to catch those fleeting moments. But I think, all too often, I’m much too focused on the mundane tasks at hand, and I miss the opportunity.
Or there are the times that I lose my patience, where I handle a situation in a less than helpful way. Where I get frustrated with someone, or they get frustrated with me, or we get frustrated with each other.
At times like these all of that wonder and holiness seem to leave the room, or at least go hide behind the couch. Then I’m left feeling all flustered or upset, most of the time with myself because I didn’t handle the situation with the patience or compassion or gentleness or humor that I would have hoped.
Then I look at my life in L’Arche as it is right at that moment and I can’t help but think that it would never make it into one of those books by Nouwen or Vanier.
I can’t recall ever reading anything they wrote about a snippy, short-tempered assistant. I don’t remember seeing anything about an assistant who practically had a wrestling match to retrieve an object from a core member that they shouldn’t have had.
There’s nothing about the assistant who slammed their car door and shouted at a core member in the front yard of their house, or the assistant who had a spectacular meltdown and practically threw a plate of muffins at their community coordinator.
But that’s life in community. Or at least my life in community. And I’m guessing that it’s not really all that abnormal or different. I’m sure the specifics might vary, but I’d be willing to bet that anyone who has spent much time living in intentional community in general, and L’Arche in particular, can share plenty of their own less-than-stellar moments. It’s all a part of the deal when you sign up for a life in community.
Another part of life in community, though, is the need to forgive as well as to ask for forgiveness. So, when those moments happen, I have to stuff my pride away and muster up the humility to admit that I was wrong, or that I could have handled the situation differently, and ask for forgiveness. I also have to be willing to extend that same forgiveness to others, even in the midst of hurt feelings or a bruised ego.
And I suppose that’s where the wonder and holiness comes into the situation. In the fact that, no matter how many times I’ve screwed up, or said something wrong, or made a fool of myself, every time when I have asked for forgiveness, I’ve received it. I’ve been given a hug, or a smile, or a kind word to let me know that it was forgiven and forgotten. We were able to mend our relationship and move on, to wipe the slate clean — at least until the next time I can find a way to mess up!
Originally posted Aug. 28, 2012, at Every Day an Adventure. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Mark Lepper’s blog Every Day an Adventure at Lutheran Blogs.