L’Arche Atlanta

Fran and Rhiannon and I attended a gathering of the Friends of L’Arche Atlanta on Saturday evening. We’ve been meaning to get to a L’Arche meeting for some time now, but there always seemed to be one conflict or another. Now that we’ve finally made it, we are going to be more intentional about making L’Arche a priority in our lives.

If you’re not familiar with L’Arche, it’s worth getting to know. Founded by Jean Vanier and immortalized by Henri Nouwen in his book The Road to Daybreak, L’Arche (French for “the Ark”) is an international collective of communities and programs designed to support individuals with intellectual and learning disabilities by creating homes where such persons and those who assist them may live communally. As I quipped more than once Saturday evening, “We already have a L’Arche home!” because of Rhiannon’s disabilities. Of course, that’s not entirely true, as our “community home” is knit together by the bonds of family, but my sense is that L’Arche homes hope to create their own sense of “family” within the scope of intentional community.

Friends of L’Arche Atlanta is a network that is seeking to establish a number of L’Arche homes in Atlanta, with the first one scheduled to open in 2011. Part of what made Saturday evening’s meeting so much fun for us is that, even though this was our first time at a L’Arche gathering, we were surrounded by people we know and love — folks we’ve known through the greater disability community, through St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church or the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, and even through the Contra Dance community (L’Arche’s monthly meetings have a strong social focus, and this meeting featured a contra dance, with a band and caller that were comfortable working with people of differing abilities. Needless to say, it was rollicking good fun).

I don’t know if L’Arche qualifies as “new monastic” or not, but for my purposes the excitement I felt Saturday evening seemed to fire the same synapses in my brain that I find when I read the writings of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove or Shane Claiborne or, for that matter, Dorothy Day. Part of what I’m looking for in a spiritual community is the intentionality of a daily practice of contemplative and liturgical prayer, and my sense is that L’Arche, being inclusive and ecumenical, does not emphasize such a discipline. But just because I’m not sensing much of a call to live in a L’Arche home doesn’t mean I can’t plug in to this community on an at-large level… it seems to me that L’Arche needs its “oblates” or “third order” members just like any other intentional, spiritual community. And so that’s part of why I’m writing about it this morning — to encourage my readers to make your own connection with L’Arche. L’Arche communities can be found around the world, with new ones developing all the time, so look for L’Arche near where you live. I think just hanging out with follks, some of whom have serious disabilities and others who don’t, just having fun together, laughing together, getting to know one another — without any particular “program” to work or task to complete — gives birth to some powerful energy. It rather feels like the Body of Christ.

Here are some books to explore if you want to deepen your sense of L’Arche, or of its founder, Jean Vanier:

Also, for those of you who are on Facebook, join the Friend’s of L’Arche Atlanta’s Facebook page.

Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
Mysticism and the Divine Feminine: An Interview with Mirabai Starr
Pentecost and Ecstasy
What Has Not Yet Been Revealed
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • noel a light bearer

    carl that was wonderful
    henri nouwen and jean vanier beautiful
    i teach at a special needs school but it is so heavily bureaucratically motivated in order to grab funding and teacher kudos that the needs of the students get overlooked and as in all human relationships “what the world needs now is love sweet love”
    back i go to abandonment to divine providence

  • Joe

    Here is a comment of Jean Vanier’s (from “Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness”) that I thought I would share as relevant to emerging churches and spiritualities:

    “Jesus came to change a world in which those at the top have privilege, power, prestige, and money, while those at the bottom are seen as useless. Jesus came to create a body. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, compares the human body to the body of Christ, and he says that those parts of the body that are the weakest and least presentable are indispensable to the body. In other words, people who are the weakest and least presentable are indispensable to the church.
    “I have never seen this as the first line of a book on ecclesiology. Who really believes it? But this is the heart of faith, of what it means to be the church. Do we really believe that the weakest, the least presentable, those we hide away — that they are indispensable? If that was our vision of the church, it would change many things.”

    To the best of my knowledge, there is really only Dorothy Day to look to as having a comparable vision of the mystical body of Christ within which the weakest are the most integral.