L’Arche is a lifestyle, filled with moments joyful and mundane. It is also an idea, an alternative way of understanding one another and the world, manifested through small, daily acts of care and generosity.
L’Arche is a place where people diverse in a myriad of ways join together in mutual relationship to give and receive love. There are few places in the world where this type of mutuality is enacted, if even encouraged. We are constantly pushed to get ahead, climb higher, and to leave the weakest behind. We fear our neighbors and bomb the other. We are taught to live by our own rules, no matter how our actions impact other things or people. For all intents and purposes, living in caring relationships with one another is downright counter-cultural.
I remember one experience I had with a core person, Linda, which revealed the unique relationships we as core people and assistants share with one another. One afternoon, when inquiring about various members of our household, Linda said to me, “Where is Diane? She’s mine.” I didn’t quite understand at first, and she repeated, “She’s mine. She’s mine.” Then it came to me. Diane is Linda’s accompanier, the one who assists her with doctor visits and budget expenses, etc. It is a common occurrence to hear fellow assistants say, “Linda’s mine,” but I had never heard it from the mouth of a core person. Linda was displaying here the mutuality of relationship that is at the heart of L’Arche, where both assistant and core person are responsible for one another’s well being. In a sense, Linda and Diane belong to each other.
Fritz, another housemate, displays his care and responsibility for other community members on a daily basis. At least once a day, Fritz will ask you, “Tired?” and he gets much pleasure out of responding to someone’s sneeze with a hardy “BLESS you.” Fritz has an amazing capacity to forgive and forget, as many in our house have witnessed. Just today, after much difficulty with morning routine and other dreaded tasks, I sat down feeling rather defeated, only to have Fritz come and join me on the couch, placing a hand on my shoulder and saying, “You’re a nice girl.” Just the assurance I needed!
Fritz and Linda, along with other core members in our house, are born counter-cultural. Their bodies and minds don’t fit neatly into the mainstream understanding of what it means to be a person of worth. But through their daily acts of love and acceptance, my housemates have become my guides, pointing me towards the joy and promise of the Kingdom.
I had convinced myself for so long that the Kingdom of God is revealed in mighty ways. And yet, Jesus compared the Kingdom to a mustard seed, a lost coin, a buried treasure. This seems counterintuitive — What sort of Kingdom rules from the bottom up? But, as I and many others can attest, L’Arche is an upside-down place, where the simple details of daily life narrate the bigger story of God’s love for the world.
Heather Bixler is a former assistant in L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. Prior to coming to D.C., she spent the summer with L’Arche Portland.