#2895 - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 -
Editor: Gloria Lee
"Esoterically, slowing down is rushing forward."
RETURN TO SIMPLICITY
'If only we
could return to inner simplicity!'
'There is so little simplicity in
this world its rare appearance can hardly be recognized. People in the habit of
clawing their way through the jungle take a clear section as something unnatural
and undesirable. There is only one way to start the return to simplicity, which
is to clearly see your punishment at the hands of complexity.'
L'Arche is named in the French tongue of
its birthplace. It means "the ark" an old image of all the parts of creation
journeying together. In this international movement, community is formed around
people with mental disabilities and others who share life with them. This week
we travel into the world of L'Arche its rhythm of life, its habits of love and
forgiveness, its openness to pain and failing, its music and laughter.
A Radio Pilgrimage to
If we have an archive of Speaking of Faith "classic"
programs, this is one of them. It is quite unlike anything else we've done, but
we have broadcast it every winter for the past few years. It touches people in
profound and unexpected ways.
I first became aware of L'Arche, as many
people do, through the writings of the late spiritual teacher Henri Nouwen.
After teaching at great universities and publishing many successful books,
Nouwen found himself burned out. And in his signature way, he probed the heart
of that self-diagnosis. "I woke up one day with the realization that I was
living in a very dark place," he wrote, "and that the term 'burnout' was a
convenient translation for spiritual death." In the person of Jean Vanier, the
French philosopher and Catholic layman who founded L'Arche, Nouwen heard a call
"to go and live among the poor in spirit" and find healing there. "So I moved
from Harvard to L'Arche, from the best and the brightest, wanting to rule the
world, to men and women who had few or no words and were considered, at best,
marginal to the needs of our society."
Henri Nouwen spent the last
decade of his life at Daybreak, the L'Arche community in Toronto. There, as at
every L'Arche home around the world, he became an "assistant" to mentally
handicapped adults known as the community's "core members." The books he wrote
from Daybreak continue to draw pilgrims to this network of small intentional
communities that have spread quietly, over four decades, into 30 countries.
As I set out on a "radio pilgrimage" to
the L'Arche community in Clinton, Iowa the second oldest of the 16 communities
in the United States, and the most rural I was fascinated by the great
religious paradox behind Jean Vanier's movement and Henri Nouwen's life choice:
the notion that the power of God reveals itself in weakness and humility, in
what is outcast and discarded. But I learned less in Clinton about disabilities
than about what people with disabilities can teach others of what it means to be
human. I have never forgotten L'Arche regional director Jo Anne Horstmann's
description of how the mentally retarded members of the L'Arche community
instruct her in the virtue of gentleness, and in the original meaning behind the
politically incorrect word "retarded" slowing down. Every time I hear this
program anew, I am moved and challenged by assistant Eric Plaut's frank account
of his long road to living in expectation of finding beauty in things that go
nm rai contributed this
several options for listening are
All things reflect, interpenetrate, and
indeed contain all other things. This is the organic nature of the universe, and
is called mutual interdependence in classical Buddhism. Affinity and coincidence
are its surface manifestations. . .the other is no other than myself. This is
the foundation of the precepts and the inspiration for genuine human behavior.
To acknowledge one's own dark side with a smile and to acknowledge the shining
side of the other person with a smile--this is practice. Keeping the shining
side of one's self always in view and holding fast to the dark side of the
other--this is not practice.
Alan Larus photos with poems