James Cuming leads the Canterbury-based L’Arche Kent Community. Today and tomorrow we have his thoughts on ‘Care’ as it is lived out in L’Arche.
“Care”. The word promises so much yet its outworking can be so clinical.
L’Arche is an intentional faith community of mutually concerned, crazily diverse human beings. But we’re also an accredited, approved, qualified, rigorously inspected agency of health and social care. We’re a service provider and we deliver our service to service users. We practise care on clients. We’re a delivery agency, a utility company. Customer satisfaction is important to us. Why? Because we’re G-R-R-R-EAT! Because you’re worth it. Because I’m lovin’ it.
When did care move from being a verb to become a noun? When did care stop being something you felt and became something you delivered – a commodity – something to be traded, quality assured, ‘rigorously tested’, measured, accredited. When did society first start ‘doing’ care to people?
I’m being facetious. Care as a noun of course has a valid and entirely different definition to that of the verb. Providing ‘care’ to someone with particular needs enables the individual to live life with more freedom and independence which in turn offers more opportunity for them to care about—and be cared—for by another human being.
The great observation by Jean Vanier 50 years ago which led to the founding of the first L’Arche community was something so simple and obvious that it almost makes you wonder what all the fuss is about: when two people are genuinely and mutually concerned for one another, involved with one another, care for one another, both will change, both will grow.
This first reflection introduces the topic of caring for others – and how the one cared for can be a carer for her carers. Tomorrow we’ll start a short season about L’Arche.
After a fall that made walking and moving difficult, my mother returned home with help from ‘carers’ – mostly young women with families – who would help her with dressing, bathing and getting back to the shops. They were also able to observe her recovery and how she was getting around the house and to the village shop.
This was an excellent way of getting out of hospital earlier than she otherwise would have done. I’m sure she got better a lot sooner. In fact, she soon found that she was getting most things done for herself before the carers came: ‘I didn’t see why I should stop in bed until they were able to come and get me dressed, so of course I did it myself.’
The carers would then spend a few minutes chatting over a cup of tea. They were still working, noting how she was both physically and mentally. She, in her turn, was caring for them by listening to the news of their families. Those ten minutes were a respite for the carers before the next call, perhaps to someone needing more of their time for those basic needs.
Our family are grateful for the dedication of these lowly-paid workers who bring real loving care to their work, even though their time is micro-managed by desk jockeys at their agency HQ and at County Hall. At the care-face, it is face-to-face work, person to person, loving kindness.
My mother will remain in her own home as long as she possibly can. Tomorrow we’ll read about a caring way of living with people with learning disabilities.
I love watching for sunrises
I mean surprises
proclaiming without fanfare that
we are not selfish
pre-determined muddles but have
at least a sky’s worth
of space in us just waiting for
that warm sunrise of
empathy and so here is one
Mister Darwin sir
fossils prove Neandertals cared
for the weakest ones
in their tribe and didn’t leave them
to die oh surprise
for love loved the most fragile and
not just the fittest
and survives from barely biped
to barely upright
humans God I love sunrises
Sister Johanna sees more sunrises than most of us. If I got up as early as she does, with a ladder and some glasses I could see to Minster marshes – if it wasn’t for the houses in between. Let’s enjoy her sharing the blessings of sunrise. An appropriate image to ponder when we have the feast of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth tomorrow, a truly ‘warm sunrise of empathy’ and a neat challenge to Darwin.
I promise you I did not know this Synod document was about to be published when I began answering your question, Is Christianity Dead? But there are good ideas in there to help address your concerns. I move on to the short paragraph entitled Going Out. I think we have to realise that when Pope Francis is talking about vocations he is by no meaning just the priesthood and religious life.
Pastoral vocational care, in this sense, means to accept the invitation of Pope Francis: “going out”, primarily, by abandoning the rigid attitudes which make the proclamation of the joy of the Gospel less credible; “going out”, leaving behind a framework which makes people feel hemmed-in; and “going out”, by giving up a way of acting as Church which at times is out-dated. “Going out” is also a sign of inner freedom from routine activities and concerns, so that young people can be leading characters in their own lives. The young will find the Church more attractive, when they see that their unique contribution is welcomed by the Christian community.
The church porch is important; each one is a door of mercy where people, old and young, should feel welcome to come in and go out freely. If that is not the case, how can it be remedied? What ways of acting do we need to give up? Pope Francis does not promise it will not be demanding.