by John Cook
On April 5, 2016, L’Arche Greater Washinton, D.C. gathered at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel to host our annual Heart of L’Arche Breakfast. This community update was shared as an opening to our breakfast. The theme of the 2016 Heart of L’Arche Breakfast was “Bring Your Gifts to the Table.”
Good morning. My name is John Cook. I am the executive director of L’Arche Greater Washington, DC. Thank you for bringing the gift of yourselves to the table with us today.
The vision of L’Arche is a world living in love, a world where each has enough, and each has a place of honor.
The call of L’Arche is to create little communities all over the world where people with and people without intellectual disabilities are learning to live in love, communities where each has enough, and each has a place of honor. Worldwide, L’Arche has created about 150 of these communities on 6 continents, including 20 in the U.S. and 2 locally, one in Adams Morgan and one in South Arlington.
The mission of L’Arche is to share what we’re learning about living in love, about creating communities, societies, and a world where each has enough and each has a place of honor.
L’Arche is a school of life in love that has re-shaped my own life. Like many people, I grew up believing that I had to earn love by being better, especially by being beating others, and that I had to hide my weaknesses and failings. I had to run faster and earn better grades. In football, I had to take hits and jog back to the huddle without showing that I was injured. I still often struggle to be better so that I can earn love; and I still live with the fears that I don’t measure up and that others will see that I don’t.
Somehow, as a child, the lessons about receiving mercy didn’t register with me. Those were the lessons where some children learn the truth about love, where they learn that they are worthy of love WITH their failings and weaknesses, and WITH their hurts and their hurting of others.
Fortunately, I got involved in L’Arche 32 years ago, and now, at age 65, I’ve had 32 years in the L’Arche school of life in love. The lessons about mercy are daily lessons, and there are great teachers like Hazel Pulliam.
Over the past week or so, Hazel has been guiding me through another lesson in mercy. This is what has been happening: On Holy Thursday, Hazel became one of the first women to have her feet washed in our church, and I did not go. Over the next days, every time I saw Hazel, she would tell me that she was mad at me, and I could tell that I had hurt her. I would tell her that she was right to be mad at me because I was wrong and had hurt her.
Last Tuesday, I sat next to Hazel for the first time since missing the foot washing at church. I was anxious, and she reminded me that she was mad at me. She then ruined my effort to take a selfie of us sitting together by frowning at the camera. After sitting next to each other for a long time without saying much to each other, I lightly touched her hand, and she slowly wrapped my hand in hers. Then she let me rest my head on her shoulder. Then we hugged.
I continue to learn that I am worthy of love WITH my weaknesses and failings. It is not true that I must earn the right to have enough or to have a place of honor. The lessons of mercy are freeing me to become what I most deeply want to be – a person whose main purpose in life is co-creating with Hazel and others communities learning to live in love.
We are sharing our learning with others, especially in the arenas of faith community and of professional social and health care services. In the faith arena, for example, a group of Muslim and Christian scholars spent time in one of our homes last year. We then talked and listened with them about the experience they had shared. A Muslim scholars talked about “the universal language of love and suffering” that he witnessed in L’Arche. More recently, we led a time of reflection with group of women and men preparing for church leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary.
In the arena of professional social and health care services, L’Arche models and advocates honoring the humanity of everyone involved, both providers and receivers of services. A former government case manager told me last week that she liked being at L’Arche because of what she learned and because of how she herself felt when she was with us.
Now L’Arche and Georgetown University want to bring L’Arche’s school for life in love to academia. We want Georgetown students to have opportunities for experiential learning in love and mercy with people like Hazel.
Georgetown and L’Arche began a visionary conversation in October 2014, and now, over the next months, we will create plans and timetables for realizing the shared vision. We will plan a new L’Arche community next to the University. The new community and its homes will resemble our existing communities in Adams Morgan and South Arlington. We want Georgetown students to have opportunities to experience life around the dinner table in a L’Arche home. Many of you have experienced the power of being at a L’Arche table where all kinds of people bring their gifts.
In addition to the community homes, people from L’Arche will be on campus every day engaging in a variety of activities. Students might encounter people from L’Arche sitting on a bench in front of Healy Hall or helping guide a campus tour. Already, L’Arche leads a class each year at Georgetown. With time, more such opportunities probably will develop, and perhaps people from L’Arche will become students in a class.
Both the community and the on-campus activities will provide daily opportunities for students to witness and to have for themselves relationships with people from L’Arche and to reflect on those relationships.
L’Arche’s three main challenges are developing better training for emerging leaders in L’Arche; communicating more effectively what we are learning; and having enough money for growth. Please pray for us as we engage these challenges, and please pray for our partnership with Georgetown University.
I always find our Heart of L’Arche breakfasts inspiring, and I hope that you will be inspired today.