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.