Easter at L’Arche
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
(Relaxing on the couch with two of my new friends at L’Arche)
What is the source of Christian joy? The resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, as He promised! This point became especially clear to me this year at L’Arche, a community in which people with and without developmental disabilities share their home and work lives together. I’d like to dedicate this post to one insight that I received from God during an interaction with a person with a disability.
In my senior oration at Wake Forest, I dedicated the first paragraph to a discussion of children’s desires to know the reasons why things are the way they are ( see: http://convocation.wfu.edu/senior-orations/broadening-to-narrow-universitys-paradox/ ). We might say the same about people with disabilities–and about all people, really. One member of my community has a slight intellectual disability, yet he never ceases to ask me exciting and challenging questions. Frequently, he throws me the question, “Community: what mean?” I always respond with some version of, “A community is a group of people that share a special connection. It’s like L’Arche. We share the value of living and working together despite any differences we might have.” He continues, “L’Arche community: what for?” I reply, “Would you prefer to live alone or with other people?” He answers, “With other people.” “So, then, the L’Arche community makes us feel welcome and at home because we are together. We choose to be with each other.” I’m never really sure whether he fully understands me or not, but he seems satisfied with my response most of the time. Today, however, I tried a different strategy, a more Socratic one. When he asked me about the meaning of community, I asked him what he thought it meant. He said, very simply, “Love together.”
Isn’t it true! Perhaps both of our responses to the definition of community say something about God. He chooses to be with us in a community of love. The story of creation, which starts the Easter Vigil’s Liturgy of the Word, is all about this sort of community. Though God doesn’t need us in the same way that we need each other as human beings, He nevertheless decides to enter into a relationship with us by creating us. Frankly, before God, all of us humans suffer from the disability of sin; despite this fact, He enters into our condition and dwells among us. L’Arche is like this God-human relationship. All of us, disabilities or not, have to “empty ourselves” in order to fully manifest our love for each other. It is just as humbling for a person with a disability to receive help as it is for a person without a disability to give help. This truth reflects our community with God. He serves us, yet we serve him. What mutuality! And this community is more like a family than a mental institution or a dictatorship. We live close to each other, not in personal isolation or communal isolation.
Returning to the resurrection, we notice how this notion deepens. God suffers for us and with us, yet He shares with us and for us the joy of the rising again. We commune in our defeat and in our triumph. At L’Arche we celebrate a person with a disability who has made a simple step forward just as we celebrate a person without a disability who has received a promotion. We mourn together an outburst of physical violence from a disabled person just as we mourn together an assistant’s break-up. We, as my friend put it, “Love together.”
I wish everyone many Easter blessings!
David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.