Back in November, I had the good fortune of being able to make an in-person visit to L’Arche Saint John. I spent four days meeting community members and leaders, listening to people’s experience of community life, and figuring out how I can continue to support the work of L’Arche Saint John.
Late Monday afternoon on the day I arrived, Zoël and made the trek through chilly uptown Saint John to meet Gray at Creative Connections. In the empty (yet somehow still crowded!) studio, we sat six feet apart, drinking tea and listening to Gray share about the work she and the artists of Creative Connections are involved in.
I expected us to talk about the plan to welcome a new artist, the tiles they produced for Bonfire Communications, the struggles of scheduling and support in pandemic times. And while we did touch on those topics, we spent most of our time inspired by Gray’s reflection on how the work of Creative Connections is part of the evolution of the spirituality of L’Arche today.
Ritual is central to many expressions of spirituality – the ritual of church on Sunday morning, of saying the rosary, of pre-dawn yoga, of burning incense or lighting a candle. These rituals ground believers in a spiritual practice that, among other things, helps nurture a sense of peace and reminds us that we belong.
Gray shared about the rituals at Creative Connections – games of UNO, the morning check-in, passing the candle, twice daily breaks – and how these, too, are rituals that nurture a spiritual life. They remind folks of their connections to each other; they create a pause for quiet and rest in the busy-ness of the day; they encourage mutual listening and care.
We heard from Gray about how the artists at Creative Connections bring their questions about racism, gender violence, Indigenous rights, poverty, and other questions of social justice. And about how together, they work to learn about those issues – a learning firmly rooted in the question raised over and over by those artists – “What are we gonna do about that?” And so they did things – they read books together by people who survived residential schools; they made signs and marched for Black Lives Matter; they learned to say some Mi’kmaq words and to make fry bread.
The work of Gray, Katie, Greer, and others to make questions of social justice accessible to folks with intellectual disabilities is, itself, an act of justice. And this work for justice – the work to reveal our common humanity and create space where each person’s gifts can be honoured and shared – this is, I think, fundamental to the spirituality of L’Arche. It is an embodied expression of celebrate the value of each person and create a more human society, and a revelation of what shared spirituality can – and should – look like in L’Arche today.
L'Arche Atlantic Regional Leader