As I think back over my months at L’Arche I realize how incredibly deep they have been. There have been struggles in the community for sure. A few difficulties have arisen which is to be expected as part of a community. There are days when I ask myself if L’Arche is truly the best use of my skill set and academic training. However, even though it is important to name those days in the community, it’s also important to take a step back and to hear the messages that L’Arche has provided me with.
One thing I have learned over and over at L’Arche is how many adults with developmental disabilities in my community simply say the same phrases over and over again. This can be frustrating at times. They talk non-stop but are not carrying on any level of articulate conversation but rather are repeating the exact same thing! However, lately I have taken to living a bit more closely. One morning at breakfast time my co-worker and I spent some time together writing a list of the most common phrases. We came up with about 40 or so. I wish I could share all of them with you, but time would not permit for this, so instead I will just share some of the highlights.
“I love L’Arche Daybreak. Been here 10 years. I love it here. Stay longer.” Is Darryl’s way of articulating his deep commitment to L’Arche and urging me to also be committed to it.
“Just kidding! JA-JA” Is an invitation to take life a little less seriously and to be able to make fun of myself.
“No work, no pay” Is a common phrase at our house denoting the fact that we have tasks to accomplish and that we need to stop procrastinating. It’s an invitation to be dedicated and hard working for the good of those we live with.
“You’re my best friend” is an invitation to be loved by someone with a developmental disability and to love them back. It’s an invitation to break cultural barriers and to form a deep friendship with someone who is different than I am. It goes against the world’s view that we should only hang out with those who are exactly like us.
“I’ll pray for you” is a reminder to me of the deep spirituality that encompasses everything that happens at L’Arche. It’s a reminder to me that the core members (residents) truly do care about what is happening in my life and want to support me through it. It’s also an invitation to me to pray for them.
“I’m too young for boys” is a reminder that even though we live in a sex saturated society that there is nothing wrong with being single and that singleness should be celebrated. It’s a reminder that it’s not our place to awaken love before it is time.
“Now tell me what’s wrong” Is Mary-Anne’s invitation to me to be real with her and transparent in the community. To not hide what is bothering me or my emotions, but to be honest and accept the support of the core members.
There are so many more phrases that are often tossed around in our home and I may share some more in a later blog, but these 7 saying simply are a way of me giving you a glimpse into my life. It’s a way of once again stating the fact that the core members at L’Arche are truly my greatest teachers and when you really spend time with them you realize that they often have a certain type of awareness and maturity which is not often found in others. People with developmental disabilities have unfortunately had to gain their own maturity because they have been put down often by others on the outside. They have had to become committed to L’Arche when many assistants only stay for a year or two. They have had to learn to trust someone half their age with half of their life experience.
I always stand by the fact that I receive far more than I give to the core members. Recently, we had our assistants’ (staff) weekend. It was a great time of just interacting face to face with the other assistants when the core members had all gone home. It really helped me to refocus on the reason why I am really at L’Arche and reminded me of how I can serve the core members even better than I am doing right now. Above all, L’Arche is a university of the heart and after spending 7 months in this community I would highly encourage anyone who is thinking of pastoral ministry, chaplaincy, or Practical Theological scholarship to spend one semester in this school of the soul.
In undergrad I majored in Religious Education, in seminary I was majoring in peace studies, but here at L’Arche I major in Spirituality with a minor in disability studies. (I credit Jason Grieg for this way of describing it.) Although it is not always easy or practical to do something as countercultural as living in a L’Arche community, I can guarantee you that if you spend some time with an adult with a developmental disability it will be a very rewarding process. They will mentor you in ways you never knew were possible to be mentored in, they will challenge you in ways you need to grow, and they will offer unconditional love, friendship, and acceptance in a way that few others are able to extend to you.
Deborah Ferber is a Field Associate and blogger for Anabaptist Disabilities Network. She is currently living and working in a L'Arche community in Nova Scotia, Canada.