Reflections from the L'Arche Atlanta House Assistants
L'Arche Atlanta's house assistants live out the mission of L'Arche every day. Their interactions with our Core Members tell the stories of the joy of sharing friendship with adults with disabilities. We'll be highlighting their stories here from time to time.
Becca's Retreat in Trosley, France
Laura and Becca pose with a sign that says 'la ferme', which is 'the farm, in French.
Becca, one of our house assistants, and Laura, one of our faithful friends, went on an 11-day retreat in Trosly, France, the place where L'Arche was founded. Below she shares a reflection from the experience.
Founding stories have an important place in the history and identity of communities, and the story of L’Arche is one that I have heard and retold many times. For those unfamiliar with the origin of L’Arche, it’s a story of a tiny spark that spread to communities around the world. In 1964 Jean Vanier, a former naval officer, found himself seeking a more intentional way to live & interact with the world. He visited an institution for people with disabilities and was so heartbroken by the conditions he witnessed there that he invited three men to live with him in the small town of Trosly, France. From that household, the movement of L’Arche began. This story, as often as I’ve heard it, has taken on the surreal essence of a fairytale.
Last month, I had the opportunity to experience our L’Arche history in a way that made it so much more real to me. I spent 11 days on a retreat in the tiny town of Trosly along with Laura, a Faithful Friend of L’Arche Atlanta, and members of L’Arche communities from all over the world. Being in the place where the very first L’Arche community shared life together transformed the story of our founding from a fairytale into something I could see and touch. The Trosly community, which is still active and vibrant, gave us a beautiful glimpse into their daily life. Some of the core members that I met tend sheep on the L’Arche farm, some assemble product packaging, and others create mosaics for the artisan shop. The day to day rhythms of the community are vastly different than our life here at L’Arche Atlanta, but the foundation of mutual relationship is still the same- community members support one another, tell jokes, and gather together for meals and prayer at the end of the day.
Over the course of the 11 days, Laura and I found a new community among the other people on our retreat. We were a group of 38 people from 17 countries, who spoke many different languages. A couple of people were Assistants like me; most were Volunteers, House Coordinators, Community Leaders, and Board Members. We were from different generations and many had been with L’Arche for decades. But we all shared a common history and every person there had been transformed by relationships in their L’Arche communities.
Our retreat community formed in an unusual way- through shared silence. We listened to reflections given by our retreat facilitators, participated in liturgies, and met in small groups each day, but the rest of the time in Trosly- meals, personal time, prayer- was silent. Although it was a challenge at times, the silence was an incredible gift to our new community. I found myself sitting with different people at meals, unconcerned by the language or cultural differences that otherwise may have made small talk challenging. I wasn’t intimidated by people I normally would have considered to be “more important” in L’Arche. We were all experiencing this retreat together, in ways that transcended the usual chatter that we rely on in our normal lives. The silence erased barriers that often prevent me from entering transformative relationships. In a way, this was the “L’Archiest” thing about the retreat. L’Arche calls us to rethink how we share ourselves and create relationships with one another. As communities that welcome people who think, act, and communicate in different ways, we are challenged to think beyond words to form friendships. By sharing a meal together. By taking walks. By singing songs in languages that we don’t understand. When we allow ourselves to communicate creatively, we can reach a more authentic understanding of one another. We begin to speak with the “language of the heart” that is the common foundation of L’Arche relationships around the world.