Saturday, November 16, 2013

wisdom in a cup

This past week, I attended a retreat for intentional members of L'Arche communities. What this means is people who have been in L'Arche longer than the exploratory, or introductory, term of two or so years.

As part of this retreat, we were asked to bring an item that symbolizes where we are right now in our L'Arche journey. As I began to wonder what to bring, I immediately thought of my favorite mug. Allow me to tell you the story of this mug.

To begin, let me give you a brief history. I first heard about L'Arche in the books of Henri Nouwen. For about ten years prior to his death, Henri was the pastor at the L'Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

Through my reading of Henri's experience, I felt a deep connection to L'Arche. And because he shared about his experiences in L'Arche Daybreak, I have always felt a kind of connection to that community. So it was important to me that I visit them.

In July of 2012 I took some vacation from my L'Arche community here in Kansas and drove up to Canada. I stayed at Daybreak for just about a week. While I was there, I had a room in one of their homes named New House which happens to be the house where their core member Adam lived during his time at Daybreak. Henri wrote a book about his relationship with Adam shortly after Adam's death. It was this book that introduced me to L'Arche, so it was kind of special to me to be able to stay in that home.

While I was at Daybreak, I visited their Craft Studio to buy gifts for some people. In their studio they make all kinds of things including cards, candles, mugs and other pottery items. As I was looking over the shelves of items, my eye was drawn to a particular mug. This mug was two shades of blue and a core member had decorated it with drawings of several people, a few of whom were in wheelchairs. At the top of the mug was written, "All Are Welcome." I looked at this mug and immediately thought, "This one is mine."

So, I bought it and brought it home. And almost every day since then, I have drank my morning coffee out of that mug.

Well, one day last month (Oct 2013) I was sitting in the living room of our home, drinking my morning coffee out of my mug, and enjoying the light breeze provided by the ceiling fan. That's when one of the core members I share life with came out of his room complaining that he was cold. He seemed convinced it was because of the ceiling fan (which was on the lowest setting), and he was determined to turn it off.

Now this man is Deaf and communicates using sign language. I am learning ASL, but could definitely be better. .I tried nicely to explain to him that I wasn't cold and that I would like the ceiling fan to remain on. He disagreed and made a move to pull the cord to turn it off anyway. I asked him to stop, and that is when our exchange became a little more heated and, as a result, a little more animated.

I was telling him that I wanted the fan to stay on and I brought my arms back to make the sign for the word "want." That's when my elbow bumped into my mug which sent it toppling to the floor with a crash and a splash.

And there my mug lay, broken to pieces on the floor, in a pool of its own coffee.

Of course I was upset, but I tried to remind myself that it's just a mug. I gathered up all the pieces and placed them on the counter next to the coffee maker and cleaned up the mess. (While I was doing this the core member turned off the ceiling fan and went back to his room... but that's another story.)

It's just a mug, I told myself. We have many other mugs to choose from. There is even one that a former assistant bought for me when she visited the original L'Arche community in Trosly, France. Surely that mug or another would do.

So, the next morning I drank my coffee out of a different mug. But it just wasn't the same. It's hard to describe but there was just something not as good about it.

I know what I'll do, I thought. I'll glue my favorite mug back together! Luckily, I had kept all the pieces of the mug and hadn't thrown it away. That afternoon, I went to the store and purchased some glue that is known for being strong and holding things together well. I sat down at the kitchen table and carefully glued and pieced my mug back together. When I had finished, it didn't look exactly the same as it had before it broke, but I thought it looked good.

There is one thing this particular brand of glue could be better at sharing about itself and that is it expands as it dries. Quite significantly, in fact. So as the glue dried between the pieces of my mug it puffed up and pushed them apart, opening cracks and holes and revealing some jagged edges. But the glue had dried solid, holding the pieces firmly in their new places. This makes my mug basically unable to drink out of.

So, this is the item that I brought to the retreat to symbolize where I find myself at in L'Arche these days. And here is basically what I said to explain it (with a few things expanded upon):

This mug shows people being together. Some have disabilities and some don't. But at the top it proclaims, "All Are Welcome." This has been my experience of L'Arche. I have been warmly welcomed, just as I am. The core members don't place any stipulations or requirements on that welcome. I just am welcome. And this has opened my heart so I am more willing and able to welcome others in a more unconditional way.

This mug is still my favorite, even though it is broken. It might not be perfect, or work exactly how I want it to or think it should, but I still see value in it and I still believe it is beautiful.

L'Arche is not perfect, just like each person who lives in L'Arche. There are days it doesn't work like it should, when things fall through the cracks, or when someone is hurt by another's rough edge. But when I step back and look at L'Arche I realize that in the midst of the brokenness it is still beautiful. It is still worth loving. And so is each person in it, whether we have a disability or not.

All of this didn't occur to me the day I broke my mug. It took some time and distance from the event for me to have these realizations. And maybe it seems silly to take such wisdom from a broken cup, but that is something else that L'Arche has taught me - wisdom can come from unlikely places, if only we are willing to stop and listen.

Here is a picture of my mug post gluing and drying.