In every Christian group that I have been involved in, I have noticed a very distinct praying culture. At AMBS this culture took on the form of weekly Psalm readings and using the Anabaptist Prayer Book, in my undergrad years it took on the form of Monday night prayer groups in the dorm, and now at L’Arche (an intentional community for people with developmental disabilities) our praying tradition has come to be something completely different.
At L’Arche we have a practice of gathering together every evening around the supper table, lighting a candle, and sharing prayer requests with one another. Often this time is one of deep sincerity where true emotions are brought to light.
To an onlooker this practice may appear to not go beyond surface level. After all, we are not engaged in the type of “deep” prayer that the Charismatics and Evangelicals feel is necessary, yet, it is in the simple act of being together as a family that creates meaning for us. Prayer is meant to be a safe space both for those who have prior beliefs and those who do not feel they are spiritual. It is primarily a time for reflection and the sharing of much laughter and occasionally tears.
Following the sharing of requests, one of our core members (people with developmental disabilities) leads us into the Lord’s prayer as we hold hands around the table. This practice is one that brings healing, restores trust, and bonds us together as a community that freely shares with each other both the blessings and the challenges that take place in our daily lives together.
Today I experienced a real God moment while praying with our core members at L’Arche. Over the past month a certain person has been on my heart because I am aware of his brokenness and the difficulties he is facing. Although I do not feel it is right to share specifics with members of my L’Arche house, I began to pray for him today in community.
As I was praying, one of our core members who has Down syndrome became so empathetic that he began rubbing my back. After he started this gesture, another core member began to hug me and tell me that everything would be okay. Through observing my friends with developmental disabilities, I have come to appreciate the healing value that takes place in a community that prays together.
This is but one example of how the core members in my house have helped me to deepen my own prayer life and spirituality. Every day I face such examples of love and courage from people in my community who have often been overlooked by the church and society as somehow having less of a spiritual life. Yet, being with them reminds me of what prayer is really all about.
Prayer is not simply telling someone that you are thinking of them when they are going through a difficult time, but it is doing what Mary Anne (a member of our community) does every evening when she goes around the dinner table praying for each one of us by name and then goes to her room and prays for us some more until she falls asleep. That is what true community and caring for one another looks like!
Yes, community breeds tradition, but it breeds it in such a way that it includes all people as we seek to walk with Christ and practice rituals that bring glory to God.
Deborah Ferber wrote this post in October 2013, when she was a live-in assistant at L'Arche Daybreak in Toronto.