I don't remember how I got introduced to the writing of Henri Nouwen. I think, being a church person and friends with other church nerd types, I just sort of fell into it. But at once I was drawn to his openness. Especially in the book Wounded Healer he talks about the need to embrace our own weaknesses, our own wounds and hurts, and in so doing we are able to reach out to others in healing. It is in embracing our own places of hurt that we are able to minister to others in their places of hurt.
I am not a perfect person. Far from it, in fact. I have never been very good at pretending to be something I'm not. I've not been very good at pretending to have it all together, or to be perfect or to be extremely self-confident. These things are not always who I am, and I have tried to be honest about that as much as I could. So to read Henri Nouwen, who is honest about his own faults and issues, was refreshing.
In his writings he often speaks of his time spent living at L'Arche Daybreak in Ontario. L'Arche is a community centered around people with developmental disabilities. These people are at the heart of the communities of L'Arche, and so they are called core members. Then there are assistants who live in the communities, as well. They don't just come and spend 8 hours a day, or overnight, at the house. But they strive to make a life in the communities, living and working with the core members and helping them to live a full and meaningful life. I was particularly touched by Nouwen's book Adam: God's Beloved, which chronicled his time spent with Adam, a young man who was a core member at Daybreak.
Since then I've expanded my reading on L'Arche, and I've started reading some of the works of Jean Vanier, who is the founder of the L'Arche movement. I don't know that he was planning on starting something that would someday include 135 member communities in 36 countries and include 5,000 people with and without developmental disabilities who would be sharing their lives together. I think he was just reaching out to two men with developmental disabilities in the town where he lived in France, hoping to offer them a better life than the one they had previously been living in an institutional setting.
But, regardless of what his intentions were, that is what L'Arche is today. It's an international community of people who believe that people with developmental disabilities are exactly that - people. They aren't just a burden, or just people that we need to take care of, but they are people with gifts and wisdom and love to offer.
To me, the more I read about it, L'Arche seems to be an embodiment of the Gospel as Jesus preached it and lived it. The broken, the sick, the weak and lowly ones, are blessed. They are where we meet Jesus face to face. It is in the places and among the people that society often ignores or despises where we will interact with Jesus. It is in reaching out to these people where our own hearts will be transformed.
"Every child, every person, needs to know they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated." -- Jean Vanier