Welcome to L’Arche Ottawa, one of 148 faith-based communities in 38 countries where men and women — able and disabled — live together in shared faith and with the belief that together we are stronger. “What we have to do is find the places of hope,” our founder Jean Vanier has said of L’Arche and its mission, which began 51 years ago in Trosly, France. Hope resides in our seven Ottawa homes. It lives in and lifts our 30 core members and 18 assistants. Hope and friendship, courage and resilience. Our community welcomes you. (http://www.larcheottawa.org/)
Earlier in the day we wandered - by car and on foot - through some of the western countryside following the Ottawa River. Our first stop was Shirleys Bay, a gentle and quiet water refuge bearing the name of Dianne's beloved late mother. Walking along the slate shore towards the reeds gave us both a sense of what our future might look like. On the advice of the staff of the Heart and Soul Cafe, we then headed over to Almonte, once home to the mighty Mississippi Mills of Ontario and now a renewed town of arts, creativity, learning and culture. Forty five minutes flew by browsing a most excellent bookstore and chatting-up the co-owner about community life. We would fit right in there, too.
We closed our last day in Ottawa walking through the Byward Market once last time with an elegant repast at Vittoria Trattoria. As we sat sipping chianti classico Dianne said to me in dead earnest, "You look beatific. I don't think I have ever seen a person glow as you are glowing right now..." Tears were just below the surface, tears I had been holding in since our time at L'Arche, but not of sorrow, only gratitude.
I feel a unique resonance with L'Arche. I have known for a few years that my calling to ministry in the local church is coming to a close even while sensing that another is getting ready to be born. For the past twenty years, I have been keenly aware that my focus in ministry is getting smaller even as my heart goes deeper. Clearly, the L'Arche vibe touched me profoundly. Jean Vanier, the community's founder, once wrote:
To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance. We have to remind ourselves constantly that we are not saviors. We are simply a tiny sign, among thousands of others, that love is possible, that the world is not condemned to a struggle between oppressors and oppressed, that class and racial warfare is not inevitable. Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don't need a lot of money to be happy--in fact, the opposite.
This has been growing incrementally - and it came on full blown during last year's sabbatical. So I have waited - and wandered - not always gracefully or patiently for clues from the Spirit. After I regained my composure, I replied to Di something like: "Everything about this vacation in Ottawa - our 'flâneurie' - has been about honoring tender space in a hard world: the jazz artists gave one another respectful space to be creative, their music evoked gracious space to be fully alive in this moment - recognizing our brokenness, too - our traipsing through city and nature did much the same thing for us personally and as lovers. So the embrace and welcome I experienced at L'Arche spoke to the hunger and joy in my heart that sounded like welcome home."