This is my last post looking at David Ford’s book Christian Wisdom. Of the many interesting features of this volume, I was particularly intrigued by the subject of chapter 10, entitled: “An Interpersonal Wisdom: L’Arche, Learning disability and the Gospel of John.” For those of you who don’t know, L’Arche is, to borrow Ford’s explanation, “a federation of about 130 residential communities around the world. The basic pattern is that of a household in which people with learning disabilities live together with assistants, some of whom are there for a year or two while others are committed in a long-term covenant relationship with L’Arche” (351).
I suppose that L’Arche’s true claim to fame is through the writings and ministry of Henri Nouwen. Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche is the same person who convinced Nouwen to leave the plush live of the Ivy League and pastor one of these communities. Vanier, who is often known because of Nouwen or L’Arche, deserves to be read much more than he is. His book Community and Growth is a storehouse of wisdom on living in community. Tim Kearney, an editor of a volume put out by L’Arche on the spirituality and healing that takes place in their communities, puts it well:
They cry out to us and there is a vulnerability in their cry. They need us to walk with them, to support them, to believe in them, and to reveal to them their gift. There is an immense power in their cry, which is a cry for friendship, for recognition and for acceptance. In listening to their cry and in responding to it by becoming their friends and companions on the journey, we discover that, in reality, we need them as much, if not more, than they need us” (350).
Ford upholds L’Arche’s witness as a prophetic cry of wisdom to a world that is increasingly unable to have true and meaningful relationships, let alone enter into the deep pain that all of us carry around. He uses Vanier’s texts as a way to look at these communities and their practices as ways of wisdom, which is a fascinating way to close out a book like this. L’Arche serves Ford as a “sign of wisdom” in the world, that can help show what communal rereading entails, and what seeking wisdom looks like across national, religious and ethnic barriers.
I think that Ford’s use of L’Arche is right on, but would be curious to hear if any other groups come to mind? I suppose that certain strands of the New Monastics would fall under this category as well, assuming that they are struggling through communal life together and the call of wisdom in that. Any other ideas?