Tuesday, November 11, 2008

L’Arche and new monastic communities

After sitting in the Raleigh-Durham airport for four hours due to a flight delay, I'm back home from a quick trip to Duke Divinity School for the launch of the Center for Reconciliation’s new Resources for Reconciliation book series. They brought in Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, along with theologian Stanley Hauerwas for the release of their new book Living Gently in a Violent World. (I love this book. It just received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, and they also ran a profile of Hauerwas.) Vanier is in his 80s and is not likely to travel to the United States anymore, so it was a privilege to meet him and hear from him. People from L’Arche communities from all over North America came this weekend to see him.

L’Arche is a network of communities that brings together people with and without disabilities to live together in mutuality and friendship. It’s a place of profound countercultural witness. Society often does not know what to do with people with disabilities. But L’Arche is a place that declares to the disabled, “I’m glad that you exist.” During a talk Sunday night, Vanier said something along the lines of, “If we want to have a society that is more human, we must create spaces for those who are different. And we will discover that we are all people beloved by God.”

While in Durham, I stayed with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (coauthor with Shane Claiborne of Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers) at their neo-monastic intentional community of Rutba House. It was good to spend some time with them and get a glimpse of how they do life together, making meals, sharing things in common, confessing to one another and forgiving one another, connecting with the community. They are thoroughly embedded in their local neighborhood and practice a degree of hospitality that is rare in our contemporary culture.

I love how L’Arche and the new monasticism both point to the kingdom of God in their own distinctive ways. Hauerwas says that L’Arche is a sign of hope and exemplifies a kind of gentleness and patience that reminds the church of what it is supposed to be in the world. John Swinton’s introduction to the book says, “L’Arche shows, as the church is called to show, that Christianity is true by demonstrating what community would look like if the gospel were true.” The church in America has much to learn from how L’Arche and the new monasticism practice community, peacemaking, friendship and gentleness.


Pilgrim said...

Thank you for sharing this.

Foggy Blogger said...

Al, I agree that we have much to learn in those communities. But as someone with an "invisible" disability and multi-ethnic background churches to be the most difficult places for me to interact in. I love the concept of the new monastic communities, but wonder if i could ever truly participate in such a community... would they have patience and grace for me?

But then again, im a bit of cynic these days... ;)