Tag Archives: l’Arche

Finding Home Amid the Struggle

Seven months in DC. I have entered the new year with prayers for hope, feelings of
excitement, and a vision of possibility. I have struggled with growth, with lack of close
friends near by, and with understanding my vocation presently. God has shown through
brightly, and I have finally entered a space to allow myself to bask in that light.

In the beginning, I had the best of welcomes from my new community in DC. They emailed
me introductions, they made signs announcing my arrival, and they even made me a video! I hardly could
believe my dream of living in DC would have started like this!

Johnny and Gil at Starbucks

Johnny and Gil at Starbucks

The sheer importance and radicalness of my decision to live in DC started to sink in almost immediately. It didn’t take that long to move in my stuff. I had plenty of time to myself, and being new
somewhere meant I had lots of exploring to do. Yet, like travel, I prefer to do such an activity with others. Here I was in a community of people, but many people were either unavailable or uninterested. Suddenly, the awkwardness of being
the new one–in a group of people who were established in their relationships and routines–
started to ruff me up. I was the one that needed to invite myself into conversations, or
invite others to come and explore with me. It wasn’t that people were not being generous,
but that people were hoping I would use my time to either get to know my surrounds at my
own pace, or hoped that I would be immersed in learning about my responsibilities.

After one month in DC, I had my fill of being without friends, and started getting impatient
about how long it would take to have a close relationship. I didn’t want to wait for
friendships to happen, I wanted them to be plentiful at that very moment. This struggle
was good, since it begged me to pray for the well being of all the great friendships I had
back in Southern California. I thought about the time it took to make good friends back in
Orange County, and wasn’t surprised to realize that there was once a time I didn’t have
many relationships and was in the same mental space as I was currently in DC.

Thankfully, there is a habit of formal companionship that my community of L’Arche offers
and requires for all community members. I had plenty of opportunity to check-in with my
supervisors about how I was handling the transition. I had imagined doing big things for
L’Arche, and being a person that they could accurately say, “What a huge gift Gil is for us!” I
had created a load of expectations, and now these expectations were points of sorrow and
grief for me. I was not living up to who I thought I would be, and started harshly criticizing
my personal value.

This self-critic became drastically intense when I had made some poor decisions and lead to
my supervisors giving me constructive criticism. I immediately became angry and defensive
at the suggestions they gave me, and also started feeling a weight of pity squishing down
any hopefulness about moving to DC in the first place. One haunting mantra that kept
repeating itself: “Man, I guess I am not good at anything regardless of where I go.” My self-pity
flowed into a uneasy and hurt state of being that all my colleagues recognized. I wasn’t
enthusiastic, I was abnormally quiet, and a vibe of sadness hovered around me. Mid-October
through Mid-November was definitely the hardest month yet.

Nicholas visits me

Nicholas visits me

Then around the beginning of the start of the Thanksgiving holiday season, I was blessed with a visit from my cousin
Nicholas Wagner. It was such a break to have someone that I knew to hang out with me and be free to do anything in the city.
Suddenly, my room was a homely space where my cousin and I shared stories about family life, about our personal journey, and what our hopes were. It was very obvious we shared some of the same DNA make up as we got to know just how passionate
we can be about life in a very particular way.

During that same time, I was interested in an upcoming book discussion, so I had bought
the book called, The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. I am very
familiar with this author because he had been in a L’Arche
community before he died, and all his works are promoted
constantly in L’Arche. I was excited to speak about this author’s
views with others. As it so happens, I never did get to the book
discussion, but I was floored at the material within the book. I
read with such intrigue and slow pace as if every word was sacred,
speaking to my heart, and shining a light through the darkness of
my negative emotions. It spoke of the need for people to create
time for solitude to befriend our shadow self. It pointed out that

Cathedral at Christmas 2014

Cathedral at Christmas 2014

people who do not have a healthy sense of self esteem tend to be
angry or greedy. People who do not know their inherit value as a
gift from God because God made them often look to other people
to tell them they are good, or work for others to make them feel
they are valuable. Anger comes into play when a word of
constructive criticism is offered, or when another person
gets recognition and a feeling of being unrecognized
pervades the mind. This awareness of my lack of self-esteem
wasn’t necessarily my first time acknowledging
such a fault existed, but it was definitely a deeper consciousness of it this time. And it
meant a world of difference.

I started spending more quiet time, time of solitude, away from computers and people, and
started to just be alone with myself. A heavy traffic of conflicting and disturbing thoughts
occupied myself most of the time, but eventually, it became quiet within me, and a very full
lightness filled my heart. I started to feel ok with not fulfilling my expectations, and felt ok
with just being present where I was. I felt free in accepting my present state appreciating
its simplicity, and excited about possibility ahead.

I entered the Season of Advent with fervent prayer for hope,
and I certainly got it. I continue the beginning of this
new year with the same level of hope and an extra sense of
delight that I am where I am supposed to be. I have more
surrendering to do, and definitely some unforeseen
challenges to grapple with. Nonetheless, God is so very
merciful, and is calling me to dive in.

I am so very grateful for my new home in DC. Thanksgiving
was a wonderful celebration of families and friends coming to
L’Arche in gratitude and hope. Christmas was just a
continuation of people caring for each other, in the spirit of
hope and love, celebrating
relationships and God. I even was blessed to have theIMG_5743
inspiration and energy to cook a Christmas Day turkey
dinner! Everyone seemed content. Much joy was shared in
the gift of being with each other.

Home is where we can welcome others and celebrate. I have
become part of this home, and I am home.
May your 2015 bring about just as much hope and
inspiration as I am blessed with.

©Brian A Taylor

Ontario House, L’Arche GWDC 2014

Not a Wasted Decision

Gilbert and his Novitiate Spiritual Director, 2003

Gilbert and his Novitiate Spiritual Director, 2003

How funny things don’t always work out as you planned them to be; but there has been many gifts in all that I did not plan.

It was 10 years ago that I began my novitiate experience.  When I entered the novitiate, I thought nothing of it at first.  The novitiate is a place for a person to seriously take the next step towards becoming a “Religious,” that is someone who serves the Catholic church through a dedicated life of prayer, service, and who will live in community with other Religious.

I was told of my acceptance as a novice at a party only for Religious.  They were celebrating one of the Saints that founded their community, St. Ignatius of Loyola.  When I was told, I didn’t think I was going to be rejected, so I did lack surprise and even a little enthusiasm.  “Are you excited?” the Religious in charge of vocations asked me.  “Oh, sure!” I hastily replied, “I’m glad to start this next part of my journey.”  We looked at each other for a couple of moments, we smiled, and then parted ways.  I didn’t call anyone immediately.  Yet, I did tell people at the party, and they congratulated me.  My parents got the news when they came to pick me up.  “Wow,” and, “That’s wonderful,” were the main comments I remembered.  Everyone seemed happy, but as I said, I wasn’t overwhelmed with excitement.

I remember my enthusiasm shooting up as the week before I moved into the Novitiate began.  I had both happiness and nervousness.  I was sure I was doing the right thing for myself, renouncing any opportunity to be married in the future, but also knowing that the novitiate was still a trial time to really live out a Religious lifestyle so that in two years, I would make a proper discernment about whether to continue, or to do something other than the priesthood.

I remember also that very moment when my family and select friends said good-bye to me, and left the party that celebrated my moving-in day.  I remember watching them leave, and finally saying to myself, “Wow, this is it.”  Finally, I felt a sense of awe at the decision I had made.

It was only as I lived my first month at the novitiate that I started realizing how hard it was to live with men, be surround by men, and be constructively criticized by men.  I was well aware of the sacrifices needed to live such a lifestyle, but I didn’t know how much growth I needed in humility and courage to become a priest.

I definitely thought it was supposed to be a cakewalk if it was meant to be.

We were a group of six who entered in 2003.

We were a group of six who entered in 2003.

I wrote about all this as one of my first journal entries in a leather-bound book I finally used up.  It took 10 years to use all of it.  I had stopped journaling often since I was writing in other ways: lengthy email updates to friends and family, writing reflections about books, and even writing letters to friends I had made across the Nation.

That was August 30, 2003.  Since then, I have done many different things, and most of them not what I intended.  The biggest change in events was my departure from the novitiate after one year, and eventually joining l’Arche in a very full-fledged way.

But it has been helpful to remember my “Entrance Day.”  It reminds me of the hurt I went through most of my time at the novitiate, and how much I felt abandoned by God.  I remember the fantasies of love that started to plague me as if I was smitten with a curse.  I remember feeling lonely amid a community.

It’s after all that pain that now I see the truth.  I now understand that God never abandoned me, nor did God want me to ditch loving companionships with women.  But there is a difference between falling in love and having a respectful relationship, and objectifying love as if it was a “cure-all” to natural passions.  I was lonely because I was choosing to distance myself from others, not letting the other men help me nor allowing my experiences to help them.

I would not change the course of events of my past.  My prayer life has forever been affected with depth since my time in the novitiate.  I believe that it wasn’t so much that my idea of becoming a priest was not meant to be.  It’s more telling about the graciousness of God in allowing things to always work out for the better because I’m cared for.  Maybe I was supposed to try harder to be humble, or grow deeper in courage, yet I am now where I am because I have said yes to dancing with God.  Sometimes I wanted to lead the dance, but the best parts of the dance in my life have surely been when I decided HE could lead instead.

What We Feed Will Grow

A key theological point I am learning through l’Arche is about accepting the “shadow-side” of my Self.  Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen, two great theologians from l’Arche, speak about our shadow-side as being not “apart” from us, but “a part” of us.  It is never going to go away, and the more we repress it, the more it is bound to explode.  Repression of our shadow is practically the same as “feeding it.”

I ran into the comic strip below from my brother who has always shared great stuff with me.  The story tells everything you need to know about how to handle your shadow side.

Jean recommended that we not feed the shadow, but befriend the shadow so that when others do wrong to us, we will not react with aggression or despair, but will hold a sense of empathy for that wrongdoer.  Knowing how to forgive is also knowing the “bad wolf” of our own, and realizing that the person who wronged you has ultimately a harder battle…within their Self their shadow is winning, and it is not allowing them to become the best person they can be.  And that’s a sad state of being.  So pray for them, and forgive them, for they do not know what they do.

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Finding Our Way in Life: Daily Thoughts from Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier is a profound theologian who, with friends, founded the l’Arche communities. These communities are throughout the world, and venture to create homes of people with and without disabilities, venturing to be in communion with one another.

He is definitely as profound as Mother Teresa, but has not made as big of a splash in the secular world as she had.  Nonetheless, his work is just as important.

Below, I have integrated an email that is sent daily, and is something you may want to subscribe to, if you’re looking for a little bit of inspiration and hope for your day.  Notice that there are two thoughts integrated….I did that so you could get the point of the style of his reflections.

To subscribe, click here.

L'Arche Foundation Logo
Tuesday 8 January 2013
Celebration
Maybe the world will be transformed when we learn to have fun together. I don’t mean to suggest that we don’t talk about serious things. But maybe what our world needs more than anything is communties where we celebrate life together and become a sign of hope for our world. Maybe we need signs that it is possible to love each other.

Jean Vanier, “Living Gently in a Violent World,” p. 75

Sunday 6 January 2013

Changing the World

I have been trying to point out that our deep need is to meet others on the other side of the wall, to discover their gifts, to appreciate them. We must not get caught up in the need for power over the poor. We need to be with the poor. That can seem a bit crazy because it doesn’t look like a plan to change the world. But maybe we will change the world if we are happy. Maybe what we need most is to rejoice and to celebrate with the weak and the vulnerable.

Jean Vanier, “Living Gently in a Violent World,” p. 75

Surrendering Is a Gift

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There was lots of surrendering today.  It was great helping my friends have a great day of no plans, and surrendering to the whims of time and energy.

I thought of some ideas of what to do.  I even researched them.  But alas, my colleague, Tuan, had another idea.  It didn’t sound too interesting…in part because it wasn’t my idea, but for the sake of practicing “surrender,” I went with his.

It was the best mini-trip we did together!  God is good. =)

The slideshow also needs some explanation.  My friend, Chris, has a developmental disability, but is smart in some areas of life that I haven’t dared to gain intelligence in.  Such as wood-working.  The pics show Chris using some high-powered machines that most children would not be allowed to go near.  Goes to show Chris isn’t a child.

Jim, who owned all the stuff, was a friend of Tuan’s, and knew lots of stuff about wood-working.  He knew Chris had a developmental disability, and he heard Chris naming the tools and proclaiming he had taken a class.  Jim started to choose a piece of wood, and, quite casually, hooked up the machine for Chris.  Chris actually used the machine!  He got good comments from Jim about using “good form” and good safety precautions.  Goes to show Chris did know about wood-working.

I walked away from this small adventure with a great depth of gratitude.  It was a day well spent.  We didn’t place much emphasis in planning, but surrendered to seeing what might God provide.

Surely, God provided a good outcome to my surrendering of my own planned out ideas for the trip.  And God provided us an encounter with a fantastic man who was willing to surrender and trust in Chris, making a very memorable experience for all of us.