Janet Scott offers us this insight into Jean Vanier’s charism and the gift of L’Arche in her life:
In 1975, I accepted a two-year post with CUSO in Grenada, the West Indies. The job involved working with the local people to set up a school for children with developmental disabilities. Among the library of books that I took with me as resources were books by Jean Vanier as well as two books written by others about him and L’Arche. Looking back, I can honestly say that these writings shaped not only my work in Grenada but my whole professional life, personal life and spiritual life. A line from Tears of Silence (Vanier, 1970) summarizes the essence of L’Arche for me:
‘presence one person to another, present one to another, life flowing one to another’
Fast forward twenty-five years. In 2000, I found myself at a crossroads vocationally. After twenty-six years of working as a speech-language pathologist with children and youth with disabilities, I felt a call to ministry with the disenfranchised. Disappointed that the local seminaries offered little training in this area, I turned again to my books about L’Arche for inspiration. I learned that there was a L’Arche community close to my Calgary neighbourhood. One month and three interviews later, I took a leap of faith, leaving behind my professional certification and following a call to L’Arche. I am so grateful to my SoulStream Sister, Helen Barry, who, as L’Arche Calgary’s Human Resources Coordinator at the time, heard my call to fully embrace community life and found a live-out role for me, as a married woman with two teenagers.
Darryl, a nonverbal core member with Down Syndrome, was chosen to orient me to community life. He was dependent on others to assist him with all activities of daily living. He communicated through crying, vocalizations, body language, simple gestures, facial expression, and intermittent eye contact. On some days, in the midst of hours of crying or melancholy vocalizations, Darryl would pause, look directly into my eyes and smile lovingly. He would then reach out and gently put his hand on my head as if to bless me. That moment changed what had first appeared to be a sad day to a beautiful one! Darryl gave me a great gift. He taught me ‘presence one person to another’ and the fruits of presence.
Darryl was the first of many core members to teach me about the mutuality of relationships in L’Arche. As we opened our hearts to these friendships, barriers melted away. The core members shared with me their gifts, challenges and wounds and helped me to see mine. I experienced an amazing journey of heart transformation and growth. As I eventually moved into the role of Human Resources Coordinator, I had the privilege of recruiting and overseeing the community formation of assistants coming from all over the world. As each one departed the community following the term of service, I heard a myriad of accounts of how lives had been blessed by hearts transformed through mutual relationships. My life, in turn, was blessed by these stories of ‘life flowing one to another’.
I had the honour of hearing Jean Vanier present at three L’Arche Retreats in Canada. I first met him face-to-face at the Seeds of Hope Retreat in Vancouver in 2001, with the delegation from L’Arche Calgary pictured in the attached photograph (NB: I was going through my overall phase!). Jean came into the room, walked over to me and kissed me on the forehead. No long interchange, just this simple gesture of welcome and blessing. It impressed me that he knew the names of the core members traveling with me, just as he did when telling stories of innumerable core members from all over the world in his books and live presentations. Each one’s story was important to him.
Perhaps the biggest effect that Jean Vanier and my time in the L’Arche Community had on my life was to prepare me for what was to follow my departure from L’Arche in 2005. I believe that God called me to L’Arche to prepare me for the journey of walking with my husband, Ian, through a three-year illness that ended with his passing. My children, having grown up in L’Arche and having worked there as young adults, knew how to support us on this journey. Together, we lived the gift of presence, present to each other, present to the sunrise and sunset and the daily joys of a shared cup of tea, and open to the presence of God in it all. For all of this, I am eternally grateful.
Wm. Paul Young event in Calgary April 18, Lies we Believe About God
Being With Our Sorrow – Saturday March 28, 2020, St Lawrence Anglican, Calgary
Facilitators: Helen Barry and Pearl Nieuwenhuis
Brad Jersak opens us to A More Christlike Way