1.L’Arche, an experience of new life in opening up to others? 1.L’Arche, une experience de vie nouvelle dans l’ouverture

Sunday 14 February 2016

L’Arche, a new Life Experience

1. L’Arche, an experience of new life by opening oneself to another

The ’young person’ who commits him or herself to l’Arche has an experience of life with people with learning disabilities. The ’poor’ person, such as he is seen in the l’Arche homes is accepted and recognised in this opening up to another,to the one who is different. This experience is a life-giving one, for he finds a new life which he didn’t know before.

Before coming to l’Arche disabled people might well have made him run away. This feeling of unconscious rejection and closing up is found to be re enforced in a subtle and hidden manner by the atmosphere of the rejection of handicap or of the one who is different that comes from the ’world’ we live in.

In L’Arche communities, the poor person is recognised as being someone who generates life. He provokes openness, welcome, compassion and mercy in the one who welcomes him. He opens up one’s heart to life, a new life that the ’young person’ might not yet have come to know. Thanks to this experience that he can understand afterwards that this new life is given . For some, this new life is in link with the Gospel.

“Alan or a heart famished for love”.

Alan came to l’Arche in April 1978 at the age of twenty-two. He had suffered from foetal encephalitis and cerebral bleeding.Unable to walk without aid, he needed a wheelchair at times of great fatigue or depression. He had lived with his brothers and sisters until the age of four then was put into the psychiatric hospital until his arrival in l’Arche.

Alan was manic depressive : he lived moments when he was in great shape than at others he would let himself die. He was unable to speak but was able to express himself, what he wanted, through gestures. He retuned to the Father in 1992.

"What mystery is in you, Alan, with your huge desire to be loved an to love? With your scrawny body! You are at least Im70 but weigh just forty kilos, if that! You have a big mouth in disproportion to your face and you can just about mange to swallow. With all those spots on your face, you’d think you were an ado looking for affection. You are at the mercy of anyone who lifts you up, because you have like a double hemiplegia. You often take this position of a

baby in its mother’s womb, turned in on itself. We ’re scared to put you straight, for fear of breaking you.“”You don’t forget very quickly the way Alan looks at you.He asks for so much love. This gaze he has is also very perspicacious, he knows how to detect in those who draw near to him, whether they have any love for him or not. I would even go as far as saying that you can guess what quality of love is being proposed to you and you can already give the answer. But how clumsy is your response! How your movements hit out! When you were able to put your arms around an assistant you like you’d think you were going to eat her, so greatly do you ask for a hug. What is this thirst for affection, Alan? Would it be the maternal love you didn’t receive and you try to get? Or would it be an instinct of love of an ado who’s looking to give himself? Or else is it to reach a love whose roots are inscribed in your being of a man who is not made to live alone? You can sense very well how you are in need of another who can reveal your beauty to you, a beauty that is completely hidden, in this gaze that God can shed light into in such a bright way. When you fall down, you stay there, inert, begging for anyone to pick you up again. It is easy to live with you, for love unifies everything in this place you dwell in of littleness and suffering."

Whoever is around Alan a lot will have their outlook in life changed. There are in facts several ways we can live the life given to us. Certain experiences can lead to death, others to life. If I am closed in on my own universe, without opening up myself to other people, I take a path towards death! This is the ’me’ that the Apostle John speaks about in a letter where he talks about this ’’me’ pleasure-speaking, possessive, domineering’. I close up on myself, preventing true life to circulate.

Either I close in like this, or else I open up to others, and in this opening up I find life which is a Gift of God. This grace can act without me knowing or being aware of it. In this gift of opening up to others who call me, either by their voice, or by their misery, I enter into Life and the forces of ’selfishness’ in me are appeased so as to let a being blossom, freeing itself by freeing another. This is a necessary experience, something I do so as to understand then what is happening in my heart.

I thought I could give life to others by looking after him and it is this other person who brings me life because I have opened up to him. By his Presence in lacks or suffering, he opens me up to life.

’Forgetting oneself’ for the advantage of others a path that leads to true life. It is a subtle passage, it is within my won life that it is worked, provoked b the other person who becomes a generator of life for me.

I am also brought back to the source of life that is within myself, the ’Poor’ is for me a necessary ’engenderment’ in order for life to surge forth abundantly.

The other person in distress, lacks or suffering, gives life in abundance to the one he welcomes.

In this encounter I have become the other person’s neighbour. I can bear witness in l’Arche of this mystery of relationship to another. Either I am relative to him and he gives me life, either I turn away from him and so there is a path of death within me. So my existence is hidden to the other person, it is the other person to whom I turn who gives me the courage to exist, the feeling of existence that takes me out of anguish.

Jesus ’turned himself’ into this poor person I am in need of so as to go beyond myself and find life. He became Poor in the poor whom I can encounter.

Assistants in l’Arche are unanimous : in the poor they care for, they have them discover what they themselves are, who they are. In the l’Arche homes, with the poor at their heart, the condition to share this life is that the assistant recognises the dignity of the poor person. And so he goes off to this wedding feast of love which consists in welcoming one’s own poverty. It is a path that is done when we welcome the poverty of the other person, it is to accept to never stop crying out so as to receive the love we are in ned of in order to live.