On May 2, 2017, L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. gathered at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel to host our 10th annual Heart of L’Arche Breakfast. This community update was shared as an opening to our breakfast. The theme of the 2017 Heart of L’Arche Breakfast was “L’Arche IMPACT!”
Good morning, and once again, welcome to the Heart of L’Arche Breakfast! As you know, we’re known as L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. We are one of 18 (and counting!) L’Arche Communities making up L’Arche USA. In turn, L’Arche USA is part of the L’Arche International Federation which holds together another 150 communities in 36 countries.
With our theme today being “impact,” it’s reasonable to ask what really can the impact of L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. be in this major metropolitan area, since we just live quietly in two homes located in Adams Morgan, and two homes in Arlington Heights? After reflecting on this question, I know our most meaningful impact is something we practice and experience everyday. And, especially in these times, it’s something we need to widely announce and share with others.
In 2002, the World Health Organization named this impact as the phrase describing what is key to creating “quality of life” in a society. The Dalai Lama writes he has found his greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of this impact in himself. And, Father Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest who ministers to gang members in Los Angeles, documented the power of this impact in his book, “Tattoos on the Heart.”
This impact is our practice of Compassionate Love. This is how I genuinely meet and know you, and you genuinely know and meet me.
Everyday, all persons in L’Arche communities throughout the world begin relationships of Compassionate Love by “Welcoming human differences, and celebrating everyone’s innate gifts.” We choose to be in mutual relationships where we are sometimes the giver, and sometimes the recipient of Compassionate Love. Persons with cognitive differences, who make L’Arche their home, remind me and other members of our Communities that all of us have lost some control over our lives because of society’s response to a “human difference” assigned to us – too young, too old, having a disease, politically conservative or liberal, religious or not, sexual orientation, nationality, or… just fill in your own difference from your own life experience!
In the midst of this societal labeling, our foundational document, “The Charter of L’Arche” leads us toward a life of Compassionate Love with these words:
Home life is at the heart of a L’Arche Community. Different members of the Community are called to be one body. We live, pray and celebrate together, sharing our joys and sufferings and forgiving each other, as in a family. We have a simple lifestyle, which gives priority to relationships.
Over the last 34 years, about 200 persons, like me, have lived in L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. to belong to Community and to share ordinary life in our homes, day-in and day-out. Whether some of us stay for a year, two… or more… our hearts are shaped and formed. To use the language of the Beatitudes, we learn from each other:
Blessed and compassionate are you to ask for my help and realize my giftedness,
for my greatest need is to belong, just like you.
Blessed and compassionate are you to help me with graciousness,
for often I need the help I cannot ask for.
Blessed and compassionate are you when you allow your heart to be wounded by my pain
and extend your love to me without distinction or expectation.
What we experience in L’Arche is shared where we go next, and in the new relationships we begin – within families and neighborhoods, within schools, within medical facilities, within offices of law, advocacy, business or nonprofit services, within faith communities and other ministries, or within L’Arche here or elsewhere.
And soon, this experience of compassionate love will be shared within a major university! Recently, we were given the green light by the D.C. Department on Disability Services to move a portion of our community onto the campus of Georgetown University, and create a L’Arche home within an existing dormitory! Our hope is by mid-2019, Hoya students and faculty will experience the gifts of L’Arche as they share daily life with us.
Today, we invite each of you to join this expanding movement of compassionate and loving hearts, and extend the impact of L’Arche! In making this choice – everyday, you will be called to do – not extraordinary things, but very ordinary things – with an extraordinary love! Pope Francis calls this a mission. In his book, “Joy of the Gospel” he writes,
[when] we enter into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do not do so from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives.
One of our own, Dottie Bocksteigel, was always full of mission and joy until she passed away last year. Over 35 years ago, she was one of our founders. Then, she remained with us as a leader and, most importantly, a prophet calling each of us to live a life of Compassionate Love. Here’s what she wrote in one of her last teachings at her faith community, the Eighth Day Church in Adams Morgan:
Compassion is an important word, both compassion for ourselves and each other. None of us has all the gifts it takes to get through this life, and I am trying to learn to accept who I am, decide what I can learn, and where I need help. I am sometimes actually able to enjoy letting people help me as part of building community but it is also easy to feel incompetent. We learn that we are all human, with many difficulties as well as joys along the way. We learn from that we are blessed not just by our gifts but also by our struggles. I feel that in L’Arche I have been given many opportunities to use gifts I didn’t know I had, and that I came to a place where I felt blessed and wanted to stay, and build a home for myself as well as others.
In recognition of a life lived full of Compassionate Love, L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. wishes for Dottie’s example to be continuously honored. I now ask Carol Akers, one of Dottie’s five children, to come and announce what we plan to do to sustain the example of her mother…
This October, L’Arche will sponsor the 1st Annual Symposium on Compassionate Love in honor of Dottie Bocksteigel! At the symposium, attendees will participate in teachings of how to grow into compassionate and loving humans. And, there will be four honorees recognized with the Heart of L’Arche Compassionate Love Award for promoting the kind of life my mother lived – arms wide open to welcome everyone, and a heart always compelling her to give what she had to “the stranger.” There will be a pair of organizations honored from each of the neighborhoods which L’Arche GWDC calls home – Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. Two of the organizations named welcome and support persons with different intellectual abilities, and the other two named welcome and support of those among us who have been called “different.” The nomination process will be announced by GWDC via social media; so please think of an organization in your life modeling Compassionate Love to submit as a nominee. My mother will be pleased to share her spirit with them! Ongoing details of the Symposium will also be shared through Greater Washington DC’s social media, and mailing lists.
On behalf of my family, I want to thank L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. for being exactly where my mother’s compassion and love was nourished and flourished. We, and everyone else who shared life with her, were given so many gifts to pass along to others. That’s why my family is contributing $5,000 as a matching grant to underwrite this Symposium honoring our mother. We want others to learn about and commit to a life of Compassionate Love! Thank you for sharing yourselves with us today, and becoming part of the society-changing impact embodied in L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C.
Please celebrate with us and discover the impact of L’Arche for yourself by visiting our homes or sharing a gift with us of yourselves. You can also make a financial gift to help support all of our current homes.