From June 3rd-9th, I was blessed with the opportunity to be a delegate at the L'Arche International General Assembly in Atlanta, Georgia. Members and friends of L'Arche from all over the world came to be together for a week, to celebrate and to make some important decisions together. I was also asked to be a daily reporter, and to share my thoughts and experiences during the week which were shared in the daily newsletter. If you are interested in what happened during the assembly, you are more than welcome to head on over to the L'Arche International website and read my updates, look at the pictures, watch the videos and get a taste of the Assembly.
I encourage you to go and check out those daily updates. It was quite an amazing experience, and I feel deeply honored to have been able to participate in the ways that I did. But, since I wrote daily updates, and there are so many wonderful pictures and videos, I'm not going to write my thoughts and perceptions of the event here on my blog. But what I want to write about is something that happened the last evening of the Assembly, after I had already turned in my final thoughts.
We gathered together outside (despite the wind and threat of rain) for a Prayer of Thanksgiving service. It was a silent service, accompanied only by some instrumental music provided by our wonderful musicians. Representatives from each of the zones, or regions, of L'Arche International were candle bearers, and they stood in front of the assembly holding their candles. The idea for the service was then for each member of the assembly to have a candle, which would be lit from the candle bearers at the front, and then the light would travel all the way through to the back of the people seated as the flames were passed on.
Because of the wind, however, this plan did not work out quite like it should have. Many times, shortly after a candle was lit, it would get blown out by a gust of wind. If you held your candle up, to show off the light, the chances were good that it wouldn't stay lit. If you kept it down and closely guarded by your hand, it had a better chance of staying lit, but then only a very few others were able to see it.
While this might not have been what the liturgy planners had intended, it seemed to me to be a more fitting way to end out time together. It seemed to me to be a more fitting image of life in L'Arche.
We believe that each person has a gift, something special and uniquely their own to offer the world. But, like the flame of a candle, this gift can be fragile. The words people say, or the way they treat us, can cause us to doubt our gifts. The society we live in can value other things, such as competition or beauty or productiveness, or something else that might make us to feel that our gifts are inferior. This can cause us to doubt our gifts, to wonder if there might be something wrong with the gifts that we have.
The wind can easily snuff out the flame of our candles, much like the world around us can cause us to doubt or hide our gifts. Our reaction to this is to hide and shelter our gifts. During the Prayer of Thanksgiving service, I noticed that I was keeping my candle low, and close to myself. I had my hand next to the flame, sheltering it from the wind. It stayed lit for a long time, but the only people who knew that it was still lit were those right beside me. The other people at the service had no idea that my candle was still burning. But sometimes, even with my best efforts to keep it safe, the wind would find its way in and blow out the flame.
But there was something else that was going on at that service. Whenever someone's candle would go out, someone nearby whose candle was still lit would reach over and relight their candle. The light from someone else's candle would reignite the light of another's.
I believe that that is the gift of life in community and L'Arche in particular. When the flame of our candle is extinguished, when we feel as if the gifts we contribute are of little or no value, we have those around us who are ready to relight our candle, to remind us of our giftedness and uniqueness, to tell us, again and again and again, how important and valuable we are to the community.
At least that is what I've found to be true. On days when I am frustrated or upset, when I'm feeling insignificant or wondering if I have anything worth sharing, I have received blessings from my L'Arche family that lift me up and remind me of my value. Sometimes those are verbal comments, sometimes they are as simple as a hug or a hand on my arm. But each time I have found that my flame has been reignited and my spirits have been lifted. I have also been blessed to be able to do the same for others, on days when they needed a gentle word or a kind gesture, I have been able to share that with them, helping them to continue to shine their light.
That's the joy of living in community, and it is a great joy I have found living in L'Arche. It is the gift of people with different abilities choosing to live life together. It is strong and weak, working together, looking out for one another (and believe me, in community we all take turns being the strong and the weak). It is sharing our light, to relight the candle of our brother or sister who is in need, and trusting that same light will be given to us when we need it. It's knowing that the community is not complete without each one sharing their light and lifting it up so that everyone can see.