Witness to Love

by Nicole Newell

Nicole first came to our community through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps as a year-long volunteer in the summer of 2015. Following the end of her service year, Nicole stayed as a live-in assistant at our Euclid House in Adams Morgan. She wrote this reflection in the spring of 2017, following the Easter Season.

 

As a practicing Christian, I observed Holy Week by following the story of Jesus’ betrayal, death, and resurrection with several L’Arche community members. On Maundy Thursday, I attended a service at my church with Andrew, a core family member in my L’Arche home. At any party or gathering, Andrew is the host introducing folks to each other, drawing their hands together to greet. He uses sign language and walks with assistance, so when I hang out with Andrew we are, quite literally, walking with one another.

     Andrew Commisso and Nicole Newell walking                       together. Photo by Mandi Jo Stoll 

When the time came in the Maundy Thursday service to wash each other’s feet, Andrew and I got up from our seats to gather with everyone in the back of the sanctuary, where five pairs of chairs had been set up in a circle, each with a basin, a water pitcher, and a towel. The choir began to sing, and congregants moved in and out of the circle to wash each other’s feet. Andrew rocked at the sound of singing and walked over to the choir, where he began clapping, smiling, and greeting choir members and the director as they sang. I felt a worry rise up – we were being disruptive! But the choir members broke into smiles when Andrew shook their hands.

Andrew signed ‘yes’ when I asked him if he wanted to wash feet together. Matt, another L’Arche assistant and member at St. Stephen’s helped him take his shoes off and walked with Andrew and me to the circle. Andrew sat down. The music had ended, and we were the last group in the circle. I felt myself redden, becoming self-conscious. And then I felt a deep grace rise up in me; there was nowhere else we were supposed to be, but here, witnessing to the power of simple presence and care. I knelt and began to pour water on Andrew’s feet. Matt then dried them carefully. Then Andrew helped to wash my feet. Several people came up to us after the service, thanking us for our presence, commenting on Andrew’s easy smile and friendly nature. They were moved by our witness to God’s call to love each other.

Living in L’Arche, I sometimes forget that our life here is radical and unfamiliar to many in our society. L’Arche life can feel quite normal and ordinary; we eat together, do the laundry, take care of each other when we are sick, celebrate birthdays, and mourn losses. Yet, unlike many spaces in our society, L’Arche is founded on the idea that relationships – people – are at the heart of meaningful life. So, we walk together, we wash each other’s feet, and in doing so we witness to the possibility of a more human society.

 

Interested in learning more? Come join us for dinner or at one of our Monthly Prayer Nights!

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