Before I moved to L'Arche, I worked at a church in Minnesota. Before I worked at a church in Minnesota, I attended a Lutheran seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. This school, Wartburg Theological Seminary, has a strong sense of community. The majority of students live in on-campus housing, which is very family friendly, and so people of all different ages call Wartburg Seminary their home. Wartburg sends out a magazine a couple times a year with various updates and news about the community and the people connected to it. The name of this magazine is "Life Together," which speaks to this sense of community, but also to the book of the same name by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
I received my most recent copy of "Life Together" just the other day. After I had flipped through it and read some of the articles, I left it sitting on our dining room table. Alex, one of the gentlemen I live with, happened to be passing by the table and he saw the magazine, so he stopped to look at it. "Where did this magazine come from.... Life Together?" he asked me.
"Oh, it's from the school I used to go to," I replied.
"You went to Life Together School?" he asked.
At first, I wanted to correct him and say, "Well, no, Alex. I went to Wartburg Theological Seminary," but what would that mean to him? Not a whole lot, truthfully. So I said, "Yeah, pretty much." Because my time at seminary taught me a lot about life together and choosing to be a part of a community.
I've been thinking a lot about this interaction, and the idea of "Life Together School," and it occurred to me that I am still in Life Together School. I think that really is what L'Arche is - a place that teaches us how to live together. It is a place where we are called into community with all sorts of people, who are very different, and we are invited into relationships with them.
This isn't always easy. In fact, it can quite often be very difficult. We can make mistakes, or lose our temper or patience. We can handle a situation in a nonproductive way, we can say things we regret. We might disregard someone's feelings, or lash out when we feel that our own are being disregarded. We might overlook the gifts that someone offers and instead see only those things that irritate or anger us.
But these are all learning opportunities, if we choose to look at them that way. Maybe the next time I am in a similar situation, I can remember how I dealt with it before and choose another, better way. Perhaps I can choose to take some deep breaths instead of responding to someone in anger. Or maybe I could put myself in someone else's shoes and see how a decision might impact them before I make it. I might be able to realize that my needs are not the only or even the most important needs in the community, and acknowledge t hat sometimes I need to be more graceful in how I handle those times when my wants or desires are not met in the way I would choose.
And here, in our Life Together School at L'Arche, we have some wonderful companions to journey alongside us. I don't want to paint the core members out to be perfect or extra holy, because they can be just as quick to lose their temper or be impatient or say hurtful things. They are, after all, only human, too. But they are also quick to forgive, to let past indiscretions slide, and to extend a hand of friendship and love. They help us to create an environment of compassion and acceptance and love that allows me to continue living and learning in this Life Together School we call L'Arche.