Tag Archives: L’Arche
Psalm 46:10 ‘Be still and know that I am God.’
A mysterious and endearing quality of art and music is that they can open a door within us to a stillness in which we can inwardly sense the knowing of God. For ultimately this knowing is not a theory in our heads, but the kind of knowing that ripples through our being in a way in which we most probably don’t understand and yet we can say of it ‘I just know’.
‘Still’ is by the Scottish painter Alison Watt OBE (b. 1965), and is hung behind the altar in the Memorial chapel of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal church in Edinburgh. If ever you have a few moments free in the centre of Edinburgh, or arrive by train to the central Waverley Station it is conveniently just across the road from the back entrance to the station. The church is usually open for visitors, offering a respite from the vibrancy and noise of the city centre by the contrastingly silent and poignantly serene space which is this chapel – dedicated in memory of those fallen in World War 1. It is a dark space which holds both the sadness of the memory of those who gave their lives, and the light of hope through the risen Christ.
This unique work somehow expresses the sense of beauty and light and continuing movement of the spirit, through its enigmatic focus on folds of fabric. The work is a quadriptych (a work in four parts) 12 ft by 12 ft, and so naturally echoes the cross in its layout, a reminder of the ultimate sacriﬁce taken by Christ. The theme of the painting is hanging drapery. The implication is that the cloth is that of the shrouds of Jesus, though what hangs behind it is only alluded to. Certainly the subtle implication is of a body beneath, causing the shaping and the folds. Watt says of the work: ‘‘Although the body is not explicitly represented, it’s still echoed in the landscape of the cloth. The paintings are about an absent presence.’
An absent presence – something we can’t see or physically perceive and yet we know and sense is there. And so it was for those who experienced that ﬁrst Easter morning – the confusion of a mysterious absent presence. It is that very quality which, without words or analysis, settles within me as I sit with this work of art.
When I ﬁrst saw this painting I felt mesmerised by the beauty and the impact of the white simplicity of the hangings amidst the stark silence of the chapel. It stills me, and yet the stillness is not rigid but full of gentle movement and ﬂow. The meaning is not obvious and yet in my unknowing it offers me opportunity to sit and just to absorb. It offers that doorway to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’
I often like to pop in when I am back in my home town; By stepping aside from all that energises the centre of town into the entrancing beauty and stillness of being in that place, I experience a way into the serenity of prayer which settles and recharges my inner resources through this beautiful work of art.
Alison Watt is the youngest artist to have had a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (2000) and to serve as an Associate Artist at the National Gallery, London (2006-8). For Still, she won the ACE (Art and Christianity Enquiry) award for a Commissioned Artwork in Ecclesiastical Space in 2005. See:
Janet McDonald is a member of the L’Arche Kent Community.
‘I’ve been a part of the Community in Flintshire for a long time. For the last few years I have represented Flintshire on the L’Arche National Speaking Council. This means that occasionally I get to go off to meet up with other Communities and report back what I find out to the group here in Flintshire.
Two years ago I went to Belgium on an inclusion course and performed a short presentation. From that I got to go to Belfast for the international [L’Arche] gathering. I came up with a workshop for about twelve people. [They were] all my ideas. We played ‘we’re going on a bear hunt’ but instead it was ‘we’re going on a house hunt’ and it was about all the places I’ve been to with L’Arche.
I’ve really enjoyed getting to meet and know people from the other Communities. I’ve had lots of invitations from people to come and visit– I haven’t managed to go to them all yet, but I’m hoping to. I love L’Arche.
Before L’Arche I was very quiet, although I bet everyone would probably disagree. It’s given me a lot of confidence in myself. I’m a different person. It’s helped me through so much.
L’Arche gives us a chance to feel part of a community. We help each other to grow. We are a friendly group. If we have any sadness or any happiness we all stick together as one. We just lost one of our core members, but everybody is sticking together. We all brought each other up from that.
L’Arche offers the world an awful lot of things. With Jean Vanier doing what he did – just taking two people into his home and from then all of a sudden you go from one Community to 135. It’s a brilliant worldwide thing that we are all in one boat. It doesn’t matter where we come from. We are all one in the boat.’
A few days ago David wrote of L’Arche: ‘As a Community we do celebrations very well, and for me, being involved gives me a sense of belonging which deepens my passion for L’Arche.’ And I began to consider the celebrations that have taken place lately.
The Annual Advent Celebration brings hundreds of friends and family to share our preparations for Christmas in songs and sketches, sales and refreshments. The Christmas market in Saint Peter’s church was as much a celebration as a day of work. There were Christmas parties for the different work activities groups, for the half-barrels gardening club, and of course in the houses. Some of us squeezed into the Cathedral carol service.
And before that … birthdays, community gatherings, the Harvest Festival, the funerals of Emma and Denise … and that’s not all, not by any means.
Any occasion can be celebrated. My wife recalls her first arrival in the community and finding on her bed a card welcoming her by name. My first weekend was marked by the teeth incident. A core member had been sick and had flushed her teeth away down the toilet with everything else. Every manhole and inspection cover was lifted, every toilet flushed. I was poised by the last one before the cesspit, with Leo, a crazy Canadian, singing ‘Teeth are flowing like a river, flowing out to you and me-e-e.’ We didn’t catch the teeth, (and nor did anyone else) but I caught the L’Arche sense of belonging that David mentions. It has never left me.
The last-mentioned celebration was not about teeth or sewage, but about the joys of being alive among sisters and brothers on a Spring morning. I hope I can continue to bring this sense of celebration to all areas of my life, and invite all readers to do likewise! Here is a morning offering that a Christian or a non-Christian could use to start the day:
‘Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful!
Celebration of the half-barrels group; our decoration for the Harvest Festival at St Mildred’s, Canterbury.
The village school’s reception class is called the Butterflies, and they brought a hint of Spring to a winter’s day at the L’Arche garden.
The four and five year olds came to learn and exercise a few gardening skills, to meet some of the community and enjoy the winter sunshine. Of course, the sun shines as brightly in the village as in the city. And it’s generally quieter there, unless a tractor or chain saw is on the go. The inner ring road runs roaring past the garden so it’s never really quiet. But we, sometimes grudgingly, ignore it and so did the children, though one boy noticed the trains accelerating from the station, something he would not hear at school.
Everyone noticed the sirens as the two fire engines raced past. Drama that does not happen in the village! I looked up from my planting to see three of the girls, arms linked, dancing in a circle, chanting nee-naw, nee-naw, taking pleasure from the sounds, taking pleasure from being alive on a sunny winter’s day in the youth of the world.
And my mind’s ear remembered the blackbird who lifted a telephone warble into his song, and the thrushes and starlings who also make music of our human racket, even getting me halfway down the garden path to answer a starling’s phone call, and I thought, why not? Why not dance when the world is young, and your friends are around you, and you have a day off from routine, and so much to be grateful for? Words are not always enough.
Admiring the River from a safe distance.
Six times a year a mixed gathering of L’Arche core members, assistants and friends meet as the Pilgrims’ Group to pray, eat, and enjoy each other’s company. Pilgrims? Well we are in Canterbury, where every footstep is on the traces of pilgrims to the Shrine of Thomas and saints like Alphege and Mildred from Saxon times, less well known now but great witnesses.
We make no claim to greatness but we do witness together with Scripture, prayer and fellowship at a shared table. This time we were remembering the wise men who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to meet an infant king – but found him in Bethlehem.
Our celebration – and we are good at celebrations – took the form of a mini-mystery play around the office and workshop. The wise men left their cosy way of life behind, to try another way: the pilgrim road, seeking for the new born King, and being pointed to Jerusalem.
And they had to try another way to go home, after they all had the same dream. Here is the text we followed, and the figures that we used to act out the story. After that, we prayed around the table, made ourselves crowns, and feasted. We are good at celebrations!
The lines in blue are repeated by all; red for rubrics means stage directions, not to be read aloud.
The readings are from Isaiah and Saint Matthew.
Isaiah wrote about people going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem before Jesus was born.
Shine out, Jerusalem, your light has come! Kings will come to your shining light. They will bring gold and incense and sing the praise of the Lord.
All: Sing the praise of the Lord.
Our scented candle can stand for the frankincense and myrrh, and the flame is the same colour as gold.
The wise men were pilgrims following the star.
Mark to take up star to first station where magi are waiting.
After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in the time of King Herod, some wise men came from the east.
Wherever they went they asked: ‘Where is the baby king of the Jews?’
‘Where is the baby king of the Jews?’
On the way they told people: We saw his star and have come to honour him.’
We saw his star and have come to honour him.’
Nobody else thought the star was special. They all said:
‘Go to Jerusalem to see the King of the Jews.’
Stop at three ‘stations’ and repeat this scene.
At Jerusalem station we see Herod flanked by hid guards.
When they got to Jerusalem, they went to see King Herod. He was worried. He asked the priests and the teachers where Christ was to be born. They told him ‘At Bethlehem .’
‘At Bethlehem .’
‘for the prophet wrote:
Bethlehem! Out of you will come the shepherd of my people Israel.’
Bethlehem! Out of you will come the shepherd of my people Israel.’
Then Herod called the wise men. He asked them when the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. ‘Come and tell me when you find the baby, then I may go and worship him.’ They listened to the king, and they set out. And the star went forward, and halted over the place where the child was.
To final station, the crib.
They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they fell to their knees. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
gold and frankincense and myrrh.
But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and they went home a different way.
they went home a different way.
When I was at L’Arche Edmonton, I visited one of the activities where core members worked. The man in charge of it was a wise teacher. He taught me something I’ve never forgotten. Don’t tell someone they are doing something wrong when they are doing their best. Say, Try another way.
That is what the wise men did. First of all they left their home and their work to follow a star. And then, instead of going back to report to King Herod, they went home a different way. If they all had the same dream, they would have taken it seriously! Let’s try another way with the people we live and work with this year.
With thanks to Christina Chase who helped crystallise some of the ideas in this celebration, and thanks to Abel for the loan of his people.
A LETTER FROM DAVID BEX, COMMUNITY LEADER, L’ARCHE KENT.
David came to L’Arche after belonging to an Emmaus Community. The gifts he received and developed there will be good for us and help us grow, but it is also good for us to be reminded of what our gifts and strengths are as a community. I can vouch for friendships that have lasted forty years and more!
The year 2018 is drawing to a close and it has been a year of change. We have had assistants go back to their home countries after a year with us, taking with them a piece of L’Arche Kent in their hearts and creating friendships that continue.
Sadly, we have had Core Members die this year, Emma and Denise.
We have seen long term assistants move on to a new chapter in their lives, which has meant that they have finished as employees but not as members of our Community.
When Core Members and assistants who have been our friends and companions change their roles or move away I sense and share a feeling of loss within the Community and a period of reflection about our relationships with them. There is a time to recognise what we have learnt from each other, the joy and laughter that we shared together.
As part of these times of reflection there comes a time when we are able to recognise that we need to prepare ourselves for welcoming new community members, new assistants and new core members. I feel these two celebrations, departing and arriving, are embraced by our Community and I see the effort and care that goes into them. As a Community we do celebrations very well, and for me, being involved gives me a sense of belonging which deepens my passion for L’Arche.
We may not always realise it but we do cope with change really well. We allow time for it to happen, we talk about it, we reflect upon it and we share our emotions about it. These traditions within L’Arche help us to be a Community, to be strong, to be able to care and have the confidence to show that we care. These traditions, these behaviours are often talked about in the world around us, but from what I see rarely practised in such a meaningful way as can be found in our Community and L’Arche as a whole.
Christmas is a time of change, a time of hope, a time when the deepest part of winter has been reached, when we look forward to brighter and lighter days. As a Community we have lots to look forward to, such as our newly arrived assistants and the ones to come, bringing with them the gifts of new relationships. I see our Community in the future having many opportunities to be a role model to those around us. We are a vibrant Community with lots of ideas, creativity and kindness.
I see all of you playing a vital role in L’Arche Kent, in showing to the world around us what Community can look like. Thank you for what you do for each other and for the Community. Thank you for the acts of kindness and caring and being wonderful role models.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
We have received a newsletter from the Asha Vani community in India, which bears witness to a different way of interfaith meeting. Please follow the link to read it all.
The newsletter opens with Ten rules for life to become more human, by Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche:
• Accept the reality of your body
• Talk about your emotions and difficulties
• Don’t be afraid of not being successful
• In a relationship, take the time to ask “How are you?”
• Stop looking at your phone. Be present!
• Ask people “What is your story?”
• Be aware of your own story
• Stop prejudice: meet people
• Listen to your deepest desire
• Remember that you’ll die one day
Very good advice, but do read the rest of the newsletter!
We are happy to share this message from L’Arche. You may not be in a position to give to L’Arche just now, but please do follow the link to the Advent Appeal site for the interview with Jean Vanier. Whatever we can do to alleviate loneliness will be an act of grace: Happy Advent!