Once I had deposited my bags onto the floor of my small bedroom, Euclid House Home Life Leader Meredith Gursky gave me a brief tour of the community and left me to rest from my travels. Before we parted ways, I told her that I hoped my tired silence had not shown me to be aloof. She responded by saying: “You don’t have to be any sort of way to be here.” I had no idea just how important that phrase would become over the next ten weeks.
Ten weeks is not a very long time, but it is long enough to establish relationships with four adults who, in the words of Thomas Merton, are “shining like the sun” with the radiance of God’s luminous image. I am now preparing to leave L’Arche and return to North Carolina. When I do, I’ll come back to the family, hobbies, classrooms, and places that made up my life long before I arrived at L’Arche. Returning to the orbit of the familiar will inform me in a very concrete way that my title of assistant has come and gone. Even so, I expect that the lessons I have learned among these people will continue to form me as a person and as a minister.
People living with intellectual disabilities would have been included in Jesus’ circle of friends. Though often forced into the shadow of cultural abandon, they are a diverse, lively people among whom the Son of God can reliably be found. I have experienced Jesus through my friends at L’Arche, and through their voices Jesus has spoken these lessons of forgiveness, affirmation, and celebration directly to me. On a basic level, Jesus’ “Great Commission” informs us that an encounter with the living Christ always results in an outward sharing with the rest of the world (Acts 1:8). The people of L’Arche understand this, and they sing it frequently during celebration gatherings:
Roll right over the ocean! Roll right over the sea!
Go back to your homes and build community.
It’s us! It’s us! It’s us that builds community!
This summer’s fresh encounter with Jesus now compels me to live out of the beauty that I have witnessed. Indeed, this small community that is nestled in a row house on a busy street in Washington, D.C. testifies to a vision that extends beyond its four walls. That vision is not easy, and it demands much from all who commit to its realization. Even with its demands, it paves the way for a life in which I am called to listen more intentionally, to celebrate every good gift, to forgive with understanding and humility, and to open myself daily to the mystery of presence by which Jesus’ message of radical love and affirmation can be heard and proclaimed again and again.
Austin served L’Arche as part of his ongoing studies.
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