I am not sure of whether you have been walking outside during this time of uncertainty. I have noticed many more people walking in our neighbourhood; I am meeting people who I’ve never met before in the area.
This is something very comforting and consoling walking together. In fact, some of my most favourite memories consist of walks I have taken with others, particularly with family and friends. I thoroughly enjoy walking with my granddaughter. There is a natural connection between walking with another and feeling deeply in contact with the other; this is particularly true when we are trying to make sense of uncertainty or disappointment.
Have you found yourself trying to understand what is occurring and uncertain during this time of living with the coronavirus. I believe that this is a time where we really need to be “walking together”, to make sense of what is occurring and make choices about how we want to live our lives.
We see in the Gospel reading the disciples walking away from Jerusalem towards Emmaus, trying to understand what occurred and trying to make sense of the situation they find themselves in.
I can easily see myself as one of the disciples walking with others, confused, heartbroken with a small glimmer of hope. What sense can we make out of what just occurred? Were our hearts not broken, for we thought that the Messiah would liberate us? Yet it ended in his death? This is not what I had wanted nor hoped for. How about you? The image I had of God is being shaken and tested. What sense can we make of this?
I imagine that this is what I am trying to unwrap as I walk away from the situation? Did you hear that some of the women in our group went to the tomb and found it empty? some claim to have seen Him?
I find it a beautiful image, this walking together; we share our grief and struggle and as we listen to each other, and eventually our eyes are opened to a new reality. We are called to let go of what we thought would occur and embrace what is happening at the moment and be open to a new way of looking at life. We can discover that Jesus has been walking with us.
We walk together sharing our story and listen to one another. Martin Buber calls this encounter the “I-Thou” relationship. It can be a sacred encounter, and if we have the courage to walk with another, recognize that we are in relationship, a sacred presence emerges amongst us. We are then able to recognize the sacredness in our brokenness and confusion.
I would like to share some insights that have come to me in prayer as I have reflected on these readings, particularly in light of the recent information we have learned about Jean Vanier and the women he manipulated and abused. What he not a model for what we could aspire to be as a follower of Jesus. He wrote about his journey and insights in numerous books over the years.
I have known Jean for over 50 years and thought that I knew him relatively well and yet am still struggling to come to terms with what occurred; I am angry, hurt and confused and struggle to see the sacredness in the situation. It really doesn’t make much sense.
Like the disciples on the road, I in the past couple of months, I have been walking with some of my sisters and brothers at L’Arche struggling to make sense of what happened. How could we have not seen it? Why was it so hidden and secret? How hurt and scarred the women he manipulated. It has changed the way I hear Jean’s words when I read or listen to them?
I need to walk with my friends to make sense of this story for it really challenges what I thought to be true; Jean provided so much insight into vulnerability, being loved through the eyes of those who are easily rejected and the wisdom of the heart. He could speak of a person with a developmental disability in a way that made my heart burn as the disciples’ hearts burned when they listened to Jesus.
I am like the disciples in the story, struggling to make sense of what happened; was I mistaken? Were these all false promises?
What is emerging for me; I have come to more deeply appreciate the importance of encouraging each one of us tell our story, sharing our disappointments and disillusionments. I see that others are struggling with this, particularly people who have given their lives to L’Arche; those who have chosen to share their journey with persons who are developmentally disabled.
I have come to see the importance of sharing this journey together; creating a space to live and share disappointment and confusion. In sharing we are opened up to see more of the situation or to receive new insights? I can see the beauty of Jean Vanier and what he has fostered, how many people he has touched and can also see how very human and broken he was. I see now how the themes he spoke of; of brokenness and vulnerability, the weak leading the strong. He had an incredible ability to talk about the person with a disability as a gift. I see now that he was talking about himself and not just others; how he kept the vulnerability he so easily spoke about hidden in himself.
On numerous occasions, he would be asked if he was a saint and he would react strongly, rejecting this notion. I can see now that he knew but lacked the openness to allow that very vulnerable part of himself to be seen. When he spoke of vulnerability, It was his heart speaking. I can only hear this, when I let go the expectation that somehow, he was more than me or you. In fact, he was just like you or me. He was imperfect, yet put on a pedestal by many, protected by many. He was not Jesus nor closer to God than you or I.
He pointed to Jesus and reflected God’s love and this radiance drew people to him; yet somehow he used this spiritual knowledge to manipulate some women in his life. This is the part that still remains confusing to me; I struggle to make sense of this. Yet I can see how easy it is to use our beliefs in Jesus to manipulate and control others. Jean, like you or I was human, imperfect and broken. Yet he knew we needed to live in community to find growth and healing. He was a messenger and not the message.
Here is what I have learned in L’Arche. Each person is a reflection, an imperfect one of that of God’s love in my life. God is manifested in the eyes of the other and in relationship. We reflect God’s love to others when we welcome and find the courage to encounter each other as we are; letting go of what I expect others to be and embrace others as they are. We learn to become more human when we enter in relationship with those who are marginalized.
It was important for the disciples to share their stories, as it is for us today to share our stories. we need to listen to the let the voice of those who are pointing to hope, who have seen Jesus risen. At first, the disciples could not recognize Jesus; perhaps the same could be said for us today, we need to work through our grief, let go of our expectations of our image of God and perhaps then we could see that Jesus has been walking with us.
The scales fell from the eyes of the disciples once they shared bread; what a wonderful sequence, we walk together, share our stories, move from grieving to hope and then we gather to share the bread of life.
And as the first reading tells us; “I saw the Lord always before me; for He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will live in hope. For You will not abandon my soul to Hades or let Your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with Your presence.’
While we cannot gather physically to share the Eucharist, let us to do in spirit and prayer, acknowledging that we are disciples walking together in uncertainty and listen to the hope that emerges in the sharing of our stories and bread together. I pray that we will be able to find a way to acknowledge the insights that Jean Vanier has brought to our lives while mourning his brokenness on our journey to communal healing.
Ottawa, April 23, 2020