Program Particulars: The Wisdom of Tenderness
Times indicated refer to web version of audio
L'Arche began in 1964 when Jean Vanier invited two mentally handicapped persons — Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux — to live with him in a small home in Trosly-Breuil, France. Vanier named the house L'Arche after Noah's Ark, symbolizing a place of welcoming for all people and a time for new beginnings. In 1972, the International Federation of L'Arche was constituted, and today there are 131 communities in 34 countries.
L'Arche communities worldwide have close to 2700 "core members" — community members who have an intellectual disability. Assistants accompany core members in daily activities, helping with basic life tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and hygiene, and develop close relationships with core members. Some assistants work for a year or two while others make a lifetime commitment. In 2002, we visited a L'Arche community in Clinton, Iowa and produced "L'Arche: A Community of Brokenness and Beauty. " Jo Anne Horstmann, now a regional coordinator for L'Arche, spoke about the role of assistants:
Our assistants make their home with people who are handicapped. It's not an eight-hour type of job where you come in in the morning and leave in the afternoon, or come in in the evening and leave in the early morning. And also, like, when people come to, quote, "work" at The Arch, it's more seen as a lifestyle than a job. Really, our life is made up of just very simple things. I mean, our daily life is about cooking and cleaning. And, you know, it's not what the world would see as very high and lofty, but it's about the amount of love that we put in what we do that makes it a profound experience. "
(02:02–04:06) Music Element
"The Multiples of One" from Awakening, performed by Joseph Curiale
(02:34) Henri Nouwen
Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) was a Catholic priest, born in the Netherlands, who taught at the University of Notre Dame and the divinity schools of Yale and Harvard. But after visiting the first L'Arche community in France, he decided to live at the L'Arche Daybreak community near Toronto, Canada, and wound up spending the last decade of his life there. In a book about his experience, Adam: God's Beloved, he wrote about a severely handicapped man named Adam who could not speak, dress himself, walk, or eat without help.
After a month of working with Adam, something started to happen to me that had never happened before. This severely handicapped young man, whom outsiders sometimes describe with very hurtful words, started to become my dearest companion. As I carried him into his bath and made waves to let the water run fast around him and told him all sorts of stories, I knew that two friends were communicating far beyond the realm of thought. Before this, I had come to believe that what makes us human is our mind. But Adam keeps showing me that what makes us human is our heart, the center of our being where God has hidden trust, hope, and love. Whoever sees in Adam merely a burden to society misses the sacred mystery that Adam is fully capable of receiving and giving love. He is fully human—not half human, not nearly human, but fully, completely human because he is all heart. The longer I stay with Adam, the more clearly I see him as a gentle teacher, teaching me what no book or professor ever could. Once, when Adam's parents came for a visit I asked, 'Tell me, during all the years you had Adam in your house, what did he give you?' His father smiled and said without hesitation, 'He brought us peace. ' I know he is right. After months of being with Adam, I am discovering within myself an inner quiet that I did not know before. Adam is one of the most broken persons among us, but without doubt our strongest bond. Because of Adam there is always someone home. Because of Adam there is a quiet rhythm in the house. Because of Adam there are moments of silence. Because of Adam there are always words of affection and tenderness. Because of Adam there is patience and endurance. Because of Adam there are smiles and tears visible to all. Because of Adam there is always time and space for forgiveness and healing. Yes, because of Adam there is peace among us.
(02:02–04:06) Music Element
"Gymnopedies: Lent Et Douloureux" from After the Rain… The Soft Sounds of Erik Satie, performed by Pascal Roge
(006:10) Aristotle and the Primacy of Experience
The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) studied under Plato before founding his own school of thought. His school became known as the Peripatetic school, from the Greek word (peripatos) meaning "walking about," possibly because Aristotle liked to lecture while taking long walks with his students. He believed in drawing knowledge from direct experience of the world. His writings are among the first extant writings to contain detailed observations of natural phenomena, for which he's been called the first genuine scientist in history.
(06:46) Aristotle's Ethics of Desire
Krista cites Vanier's book Made for Happiness: Discovering the Meaning of Life with Aristotle, in which Vanier quotes from Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics:
Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and human pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that to which all things aim….If then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good. Will not the knowledge of it, then have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right.
According to Aristotle, to adopt an ethical approach thus supposes that we set about listening to what it is that profoundly attracts us and that we familiarize ourselves with the kind of vision that sees things as moving in conformity with desire…. But then we are afraid of desire and of our desires. We are afraid of going overboard, afraid of not being able to identify, among our many desires, those that are the most profound and the most true. At the same time, an ethics of desire is good news for us at a time when we have become allergic to the ethics of law. Respect for the law, simply because is the law, will no longer do – not for young people, nor even to the same extent for the not so young. The law can no longer be imposed from the outside…. Today people want to live, to experiment with things, and, what is more, we want those things to thrill us. Here Aristotle meets some of the requirements of contemporary feeling by bringing us back to experience, by inviting us to look within ourselves at what attracts us, but also to distinguish the superficial from the more profound, to identify and shed light on what is in our inner depths. If we are to remain on course, the ethics of desire must be combined with a sense of discernment and choice, something that is clearly lacking in our culture.
(09:01) "Do You Love Me?"
Vanier cites a passage from the New Testament gospel of John, chapter 21:14-18 (New Revised Standard Version):
This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. " Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs. " A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. " Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep. " He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you. " Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go. "
(12:52) Down Syndrome
According to the National Down Syndrome Society, Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. Approximately 1 out of every 800 children is born with the syndrome, which results in some level of learning disorder, as well as heart defects, problems regulating body temperature, and weakened immune systems. The syndrome got its name from the British physician John Langdon Down, who published the first description of it in 1866. He thought the syndrome was the result of tuberculosis in the parents. Nearly a century later, in 1959, Jerome Lejeune and Patricia Jacobs independently discovered that the cause was an extra 21st chromosome.
It is now possible to test for Down syndrome in an unborn fetus, and doctors estimate that 80 to 90 percent of women who learn they are carrying a fetus with Down syndrome choose to terminate the pregnancy. On July 18, 2007 Senators Sam Brownback and Edward Kennedy reintroduced a bill (pdf) to mandate that when expectant parents receive a positive test for Down syndrome in their unborn fetus, they also receive information about the lives of people with Down syndrome, referrals to support networks, and options for caring with Down syndrome children. Sam Brownback said he was motivated to introduce the bill by his opposition to abortion. Edward Kennedy said he just wants to provide more information about a condition many parents know little about.
(13:12–14:37) Music Element
">"Movement 4" from Alec Wilder: Music for Horn, performed by Alan R. Kay
Hemiplegia is total or partial paralysis of one side of the body that results from a problem in the motor centers of the brain.
(13:12–14:37) Music Element
">"Andante Espressivo" from Nighthawks: The Music of Alec Wilder, performed by Thomas Bacon and Phillip Moll
(23:23) "God Is Love"
Vanier cites a passage from the New Testament first epistle of John, chapter 4, versus 7-12 (New Revised Standard Version):
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
(23:50) "I Am Standing at the Door"
Vanier cites a passage from the New Testament book of Revelation, chapter 3, verse 20 (New Revised Standard Version):
Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
(25:10) John the Baptist
John the Baptist was a 1st-century Jewish prophet who preached that God's final judgment was imminent. To prepare for the final day of judgmenet, he believed that people must be immersed in running water. The New Testament gospel of Matthew highlights John the Baptist in chapter 3, verses 1-17 (New Revised Standard Version):
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. " This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. '" Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. " Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness. " Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. "
(26:10) The Theodicy Question
The term theodicy derives from two Greek words, théos and diké, meaning "the justice of God. " The German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz coined the word in 1710 to demonstrate God's goodness and justice despite the existence of evil in the world. In the On Being program, "Quarks and Creation," quantum physicist John Polkinghorne offers both a scientific and theological view of the question.
(27:25) St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) was the son of a cloth merchant when he began having visions that told him to give up all worldly goods and live in poverty. He began preaching in the streets, even though he was not ordained. In order to avoid being accused of heresy, he traveled to Rome with 12 followers to present himself to Pope Innocent III. With the pope's approval, Francis and his 12 followers became the founding members of the Franciscan order. Members would own no possessions except for their coarse tunics tied with knotted rope, and they could accept no payment for any service. They preached in the street, helped the poor and the sick, and begged or worked for food. Within 10 years of the order's founding, the Franciscans had recruited 5000 members.
St. Francis always emphasized the fact that Jesus had lived a life of poverty. At the time, Christmas celebrations often portrayed the baby Jesus as a kind of infant king. As Christmas approached in 1223, St. Francis decided to remind people of Jesus' lowly birth by setting up a nativity scene near the town square of Greccio, Italy, showing Jesus in a manger full of hay, surrounded by farm animals. It was the first known Christmas crèche, and it quickly became a holiday tradition.
(29:15–32:12) Music Element
"Helium" from Helium, performed by Tin Hat Trio
(31:39) Writings of Transformative Experience
Here’s an excerpt from Vanier’s 1995 book The Heart of L’Arche. He describes the transformative experience of living with L’Arche core members:
"As I touched the fragility and pain of people with mental handicaps, and as their trust in me grew, new springs of tenderness welled up in me. I loved them, and was happy with them. They awakened part of my being that had been under-developed, dormant. Through them, a new world began to open up for me, not the world of efficiency, competition, success and power, but the world of the heart, of vulnerability and communion. They were leading me on a path towards healing and wholeness. To be a friend to the poor is demanding. The anchor us in the reality of pain; they make it impossible for us to escape into ideas or dreams. Their cry for solidarity obliges us to make choices, deepen our spiritual lives and put love at the heart of our daily lives. It transforms us.”
The word catholic comes from the Greek word katholikos, meaning “universal.” Its modern use is most often in reference to the members, beliefs, and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, but its historical usage mirrors its definition.
(33:51) Participation of Other Faiths in L'Arche
L’Arche communities exist in the United States, Canada, and countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Jean Vanier has said that in some countries it has “become an ecumenical or inter-religious reality.” The opening of the first L’Arche community Bangalore, India, in 1970 is referred to as an important milestone that exposed L’Arche to other religions, cultures, and socio-economic contexts.
In his new book of letters, Vanier writes about opening L’Arche to other faiths:
“The more L’Arche grew and the more I travelled, the more I came to see and feel not just poverty in all its forms, but also the pain of the divisions and separations among Christians and then between Christians and other religions. L’Arche was founded in the Catholic tradition, and the Church has been the womb in which L’Arche was conceived and from which it was born. It took time for me and for L’Arche to recognize the gift of ecumenism, to take stock of what was being given and to adapt accordingly. Pere Thomas, with whom I started L’Arche, was probably much more “at the roots” of the Gospel message that I was, but he also wanted L’Arche to be more traditionally Catholic. He was radical in his incredible openness to people, but he was always hoping to convert them. Little by little we discovered that to live the gift of ecumenism did not mean simply inviting Anglicans and Protestants to our Catholic Masses and celebrations but instead giving them more space to live, celebrate and nourish their own traditions – the Catholic faith at L’Arche has become just one tradition amongst others. And so it was when we moved to non-Christian countries. There are divisions among Christians, for example, but at least we are all united by a fundamental belief in Jesus, in baptism and in the cross. Finding unity with people of different religions is even more difficult: the walls between religions are greater than the walls between churches. Yet we all belong to a common humanity; we are brothers and sisters, born in the image of God, made to know and love God. And so it is obvious that when we welcome a man like Gurunathan, who had been rejected and badly treated for his disabilities, into one of our Indian communities in order to help him grow and find peace, we welcome also his icon of Ganesh, the Hindu god of beginnings, obstacles, of intellect and wisdom. With me and with L’Arche there had to be a renunciation of ideology and an embrace of practicality: what is important to Gurunathan is for him to find out who he is and for us to help him grow more fully as a human person. It’s the same when we welcome Muslims and help them attend their local mosque. …In the L’Arche charter we say that each community should identify itself as linked to a particular faith or as ecumenical or inter-religious. Each community must determine the vision in which it will ground itself. In our homes people of different faiths have discovered a place which is profoundly human, a place where all are encouraged to deepen and live their own faith and where everyone can grow to greater love… It’s much the same for all those at L’Arche who are secular, who come without faith, but then discover here that they believe in life, they believe in growth, the believe in people — their time in the community becomes a discovery in belief… …Today’s L’Arche Federation of 131 communities in thirty-four countries didn’t arise by avoiding painful questions of faith behind quiet, polite tolerance. It couldn’t have grown behind walls of religious protectionism, and it wouldn’t have flourished in a cocktail of faiths or syncretism. It could only have grown as it did: through openness, respect, trust in what is just and right, the naivete to make mistakes, love and ‘touching the roots,’ with each of us going deeper to find the essential in his or her own faith. We in L’Arche has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”
Rakki is the head of the Kolkata community in India. Vanier tells Rakki’s story in a November 2006 letter:
"I am starting this letter in Bangalore (India), where I am giving a retreat to the elder members and friends of our communities of Asha Niketan in India…I met many of our Indian brothers and sisters a long time ago. I felt like weeping with emotion as I was greeted by Srinivasan, Veeran, Modhu, Mitran and many of the other men and women I knew in the very early days of Asha Niketan. Some of them had been quite violent and have now become people of peace; they have been transformed to become builders of community…. I would have much to share with you about our communities in India and how Kunni, L’Arche coordinator for India, is leading and giving support to them, but I do not have the space in this letter. I would just like to share at least one thing: Rakki, the community leader in Kolkata, was telling me how the people in the community were being pestered and laughed at by young people in the neighbourhood. Shoes in front of the prayer room were being stolen, as well as other items. The community decided to have a public theatre in front of their home in which all the community members would take part. The theme was taken from Tagore: a story of conflict between those who were legalistic and those who were very open and liberal which ends in reconciliation and mutual understanding. Some three hundred people from the area came and were so delighted that they asked Rakki to do another in six months’ time! And Rakki added that people in the area no longer laugh and make fun of us but are more and more accepting. Asha Niketan is a little sign for that area, announcing a vision of love and acceptance for everyone."
(41:15–42:11) Music Element
">"Helium" from Helium, performed by Tin Hat Trio
(45:39) Greek Word for Faith and Trust
The Greek the word for faith and trust are the same. Pistis is a noun meaning “faith” and translated from pistevo, a verb, that means “believe” or “to trust.”
(46:40) Mother Teresa's Doubt
A recent book of Mother Teresa’s previously undisclosed letters, Come, Be My Light, has sparked public debate about the strength of her faith in her lifetime, prompting one Jesuit priest to write: “Mother Teresa’s ministry with the poor won her the Nobel Prize and the admiration of a believing world. Her ministry to a doubting modern world may have just begun.” Some of the letters reveal that for the last half-century of her life, she felt an absence of God.
Jean Vanier, who knew Mother Teresa well, responds saying “she might have had difficulties in praying, but never did she have the slightest doubt in her mission…. She never doubted her faith, but in her prayer, that she lived anguish, this is what everybody lives, this is human reality.” In the conclusion of his book of letters, Vanier writes about Mother Teresa:
"Mother Teresa has a great gift for the dying. She was phenomenal. She understood the mystery of the body, how touching and tending a broken person could lead to a real encounter. The Missionaries of Charity Sisters, and the Brothers founded by Brother Andrew, are wonderful, beautiful people. Mother Teresa told me once that there were quite a number of women who wanted to become Sisters of Charity, but who did not want to become Catholic. And she indicated that there were Muslim women who wanted to join and remain Muslim. Just imagine Catholic Missionaries of Charity, and Hindu Missionaries of Charity, and Muslim Missionaries of Charity! And then maybe Buddhists, and so on. It would have been incredible. She said she’d received permission from Rome to start a Hindu order, but it never happened, and I’ve never quite known why not. Did she feel in the end that it shouldn’t happen? Was permission revoked or not finalized? She got so far as to ask me to preach the first retreat for these Hindu women, but alas it never took place. The project died in the bud, and new life was then not given. Mother Teresa was an incredibly beautiful person and incredibly project-minded; every time I’d have breakfast with her or go to Mass with her, whether in India, in Rome or in the United States, she’d tell me about the community she was going to start in Russia, or in Yemen, here or there. There was an urgency and a sort of fatigue in her face when she was working. But when she herself was sick or dying and in hospital, she was at her most beautiful; her face became translucent, there was a beauty in her skin, a freshness, a childlike quality, which I’d never seen when she was well. Her death meant a new beginning for the Missionaries of Charity: they had to assume their reality, rediscover their charism without the presence of their founder and forge forward in a new way while remaining a sign of the world of the compassion of God for the weak.”
(47:06–48:05) Music Element
">"Andante" from Nighthawks: The Music of Alec Wilder, performed by Thomas Bacon and Phillip Moll
(50:37–52:58) Music Element
">"Andante" from Nighthawks: The Music of Alec Wilder, performed by Thomas Bacon and Phillip Moll
is a philosopher and the founder of L'Arche. He lives full-time in the original community in Trosly-Breuil, France. He's also the recipient of the 2015 Templeton Prize. His books include Befriending the Stranger, The Story of L’Arche, and Signs of the Times.