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#2895 - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - Editor: Gloria Lee
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.' --Vernon Howard
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
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 wrong.
nm rai contributed this radio story
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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. --Robert Aitken
Alan Larus photos with poems http://www.ferryfee.com/bluesky/from_a_country_fair.htm
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