Inner Life

Inner Life

Inner Life 4


EDITORIAL

Dear friends, the conversation continues! Our movements remain restricted, our social interactions are reduced, and one could imagine that our exterior life is impoverished. In this context, let us remind ourselves, as Tina was saying in the last episode of Inner Life that there is a world, ‘a whole life’, to discover within us. Whether one is part of those who believe that God is present in every human being, or one has a different conviction, or one has not even the words to say it, each one of us can find a door, a crack, to penetrate this kingdom within and begin to explore it. Let us continue this adventure together, each of us where we are. In this fourth episode of our monthly reflection, the question has changed. The person we have called is Jim Cargin, editor and translator with L’Arche International, and a long-term member of L’Arche UK. We have asked Jim to tell us about an encounter that transformed him. Here is his story. Please continue to react, to respond, to share and to keep the conversation alive.

Tim Kearney
 

The Baker's Revolution


Hard to believe it’s already 10 years since a simple, warm-hearted gesture of a baker in Bruxelles helped me see humanity anew. It happened like this. On my daily walk to the office from La Branche, the L’Arche house where I was then living, the route happily took me past a small boulangerie. The packaged goods were in Turkish. Like me, the family had left their home country to make their home in Belgium. Each morning, I dropped in to buy a fresh croissant. A way of getting the working day off to a good start. And so it continued for several months. A stroll, a drop-in, an exchange of cash for croissant, and one happy customer goes on his way.

One bright May morning, I popped in as usual. No one else in the shop. The baker came to the serving counter. This time, however, disaster! I discovered to my embarrassment, that I had forgotten my purse at home. I felt through each pocket. Nothing. Not a cent! The baker was waiting patiently, already holding the little brown paper bag. But kicking myself for being so stupid, I turned to leave. It seemed the obvious thing to do. After all, no money, no croissant. That was the way the world worked. You pay your money and you take your choice. But then came the baker’s revelation! He had spotted my confusion, looked at me but still held out the bag: ‘choisissez!’ ‘Choose!’ My lack of money was evidently not a problem. I stared back at him, even more confused. This kind of thing simply doesn’t happen. Not to me, at any rate. But there he was, smiling, the paper bag in his hand. He gestured to the pastries. It wasn’t a joke. I pointed to a croissant, which he put in the paper bag and handed to me, still smiling. ‘Merci, monsieur.’ Somewhat stunned, I went on my way, full of thoughts.

Why is this memory still so vivid, over ten years later? The point is that normally, our relationship was dictated by the usual conditions of ‘seller’ and ‘client’. But on this particular day, he said ‘non!’ Economics and those financial relationships have their place, but the baker was dancing to a far deeper melody: I was being seen not just as a paying customer but as a fellow human. He saw beyond the confines of our normal relationship, and invited us both into a different space. He wanted to share his bread, and wasn’t going to let my lack of money stop him.

For me, this short encounter affirms something fundamental about our human life in society: essentially, there is so much more to a person than their label. No-one is ever just a shop-keeper, customer, or service-user: each person is human, with their own story, their own unique gifts, their own creative possibilities. In an increasingly polarised and uncertain world, why not join the baker’s revolution? On meeting a person who appears truly different to us, in any way, -could be faith, outlook, social background, sexuality, nationality, role, etc., why not say to ourselves, ‘yes, this person is one of us’ and let that truth sink ever deeper into us.

Jim Cargin.
 

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Inner Life 3


EDITORIAL

Dear friends, welcome to this third edition of Inner Life, the monthly newsletter that is our contribution to a conversation with you beyond distance, beyond physical separation, beyond the pandemic health crisis. In this world of shifting landmarks, many are those in search of spiritual nourishment. At La Ferme, we have imagined giving a voice to people who, in the entourage of L'Arche and elsewhere, can help us put words to what remains essential for many: nourishing their inner life. Today, the one who takes up the mantle is Tina Bovermann. A German living in the United States and a former communications manager for L'Arche International, Tina is now the national leader of L'Arche USA. After Katharine Hall and Michèle Dormal, it's her turn to answer the question « What nourishes your inner life? ». As always, do not hesitate to respond, to tell us if, and how, this meditation resonates with you.

Tim Kearney
 

Staying permeable


Somewhere near Page, Arizona, in the United States, millions of years of wind and water have curved smooth lines out of red sandstone to form Antelope Canyon. Touching the curved ripples in this stony womb of Mother Nature brings tears to my eyes. At the market of Plaza de los Ponchos in Otavalo, Ecuador, the Otavaleño people brandish their woven textiles. Seeing the explosion of colors and textures, witnessing the amazement of the many tourists, fills me with joy. In the evening, the growing body of a feisty six-year-old cradles itself into mine for reading time. Holding the precious gift that is my daughter sends love into every one of my fibers. Somewhere in a small town in Germany, a family of four used to break bread at the end of the day, discuss and debate, feeding bodies and souls. Belonging to these people sources me. An ocean away, a simple light-filled octagonal structure houses a community of worshippers who sit together in silence. Listening “to that of God within” lands me in stillness.

All of these things nourish my inner life, but the question is “how”. Biologically, I am merely a bunch of cells. Cells give and receive through a permeable membrane. My soul does too. It feeds off of this world. It seeks to give to this world. My inner life is nourished when my skin is permeable, when that what surrounds me and what I belong to transcend the borders of my body to reach my core. My inner life is nourished when my essence finds its way through the layers of my being to contribute to the outer world.

Unfortunately - this might be true for you as well - that is not always the case. Parker Palmer (*) speaks of the soul as a “wild animal - tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy “. My soul, more or less safely tucked away in my body, its home, is shy to the point that I sometimes lose access to it. You know, my soul has lived some things. Yours has probably too. Mine is bruised and battered, resilient and trusting, fierce and non-compliant, ugly and beautiful, all at once. When hurt, scared or unsafe, it hides and closes, it stonewalls and pretends, it angers. My body is usually the translator. If I listen, I will notice that my muscles are tight, my joints are stiff, my skin is antsy, my breathing is shallow, my voice is hoarse. My inner life is not nourished nor is it nourishing. The membrane that separates my inner and outer lives has become impermeable.

How do I stay permeable? Having a stern talk with my uptight body or my shy soul has proven to be an insufficient strategy. Parker Palmer again: “If we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge.” Yes, that. My soul will thank me with light and energy when I sit silently and tend to it with softness, patience and honesty. Soul and body exhale and release loosen up gratefully. “I am heard”, my soul says. “I am seen”, my body says. “Yes, you are”, I say. “Sorry, it took me so long.” We hug it out. And gosh, it’s worth it. Because now, skin permeable, we set out to explore. There are worlds out there and in me, there is abundance out there and in me to sense, see, taste, experience, touch and witness. There is life to be nourished, out there and in me.

Tina Bovermann,
Atlanta, February 10, 2021.

(*) Parker J. Palmer is an American author and the founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. He wrote “Let Your Life Speak”, “The Courage to Teach”, and others books about issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change.
 

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Inner Life no 2


EDITORIAL

Hello everyone, welcome to the second edition of The Inner Life, our new monthly reflection. We want to make this bulletin the beginning of a conversation with those seeking inspiration and spiritual nourishment. Many of you have responded and shared your impressions with us after the Katharine Hall meditation was sent out a month ago. Thank you! These reactions and responses engage us and enliven the conversation. Now it is time for the second edition, for which we asked our question, “What nourishes your inner life?”, to Michèle Dormal. Michèle is a long-time member of L'Arche in France. Recently retired, she carried the responsibility of spiritual life for L’Arche international in her final mandate. As last time, please do not hesitate to share with us what touched you, what challenged you, what resonated with you in Michèle’s response.

Tim Kearney
 

The Kingdom in Daily Life


How do I nourish my inner life?

A real question... even more so this last year, which has been so disorientating: the revelations about Jean Vanier, the start of my own retirement, and then the pandemic, lockdown, terrorism...

My impression is that my spiritual life has dried out! Goodbye Sunday Mass with other people; goodbye my habits; my sources of inspiration – gone! My interesting assignments, the beautiful story of our foundation of L'Arche – also gone! My certainties about tomorrow – they’ve all flown out the window, along with the words I pray with...

Then I remember my early days in Trosly. Although I was raised a Christian, this familiar intimacy with Jesus, which I discovered at L'Arche, was totally new to me. It was Norbert, Pierrot, Patrick and the others who showed me how to pray, every night in our foyer, La Vigne.

And little by little - or perhaps it was all of a sudden, I cannot really say - I saw and felt and tasted that the Gospel was true, and that it was at work within me. The mighty one, overthrown from her throne, that was me: so often thrown into confusion when faced by a new situation. Peter refusing to let Jesus wash his feet – that was me when I preferred to go it alone, without taking the community into account. The poor widow and her tiny coin at the entrance to the Temple, that was the look that Jesus was offering me so that I could live a pretty dull daily life.... Forgiveness seventy-seven times seven was the only way out when in the midst of conflicts large and small. This thirst for a new heart, for a new spirit, this long training to become gentle and humble of heart, that was what I wanted above all else. To allow the Gospel to do its work in me, that is the path I am being offered: the precious path of Jesus by which he reveals the Father to me.

Yes, the harvest is already there, the Kingdom is among us. Often, I do not see it. That is why I want to let this Gospel keep on working on me.

Things are kind of back to front: it is not about us learning the gospel, it is about the Gospel teaching us, working on us. We wouldn't be seeking God if he himself wasn't already looking for us. The Father had a dream about a beloved daughter well before she called him Abba-Father.

So, how do I nourish my inner life?

I ask for the grace to perceive this lavish harvest all around me, to notice the kindness of nature, of the daily hello’s, of the little gestures we make to each other, the generosity of neighbours and of the parish. To see this Kingdom which is already there today, and to savour it... To take notice of this Gospel, at work within me and around me. And so often, when I do pass by on the other side, then to retrace my steps, again and again, and climb out of my rut.

Concretely, to nurture this inner life, I read and copy out the gospel of the day; then during the day, I try to recall it, so that His word can teach me through life, people, nature and events... In the evening, just to bring everything to a close, I enter into quiet, and stop making any noise... so that the seed of this gospel and the mysterious tangible presence of God can germinate in our lives. And if that is granted me, then to throw myself fully into collaborating with this world in the making... to be a co-creator with God!

And then, at the very end, to say ‘Thank you’ to him, for his presence in our midst. ‘Thank you’ but also ‘Again’… That he may give himself again, so that we may see, welcome, and co-create again.

Michèle Dormal,
Ambleteuse, France.
 

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cover of bulletin


EDITORIAL

Hello everyone, and welcome to the first edition of Inner Life. Through this monthly bulletin, we aim to begin a conversation with you, and with all those who seek inspiration and spiritual nourishment. This bulletin shall evolve as a conversation. Therefore, do react, do answer, do share with us if something in the meditation touches you, challenges you, inspires you. For this first edition, we invited Katharine Hall. Katharine is British. She’s a former L’Arche assistant in the UK, and now a contemplative Anglican nun in Wales. She’s also a painter. We asked Katharine this one and only question : “ What nourishes your inner life ? ”. Here is her answer.

Tim Kearney
 

Painting with God


“ What nourishes my inner life ? ” is a strange question : is there a dichotomy of inner and outer when I am made as one ?

Seeking to nourish my inner life lead me first to L’Arche communities and then to a life of contemplative prayer where my inner and outer life is one: my vocation. I am one with the whole of creation; and because of, and in, Jesus Christ I am one with the Father. There are many things that lead me into the fullness of life, that lead me into a deeper relationship with God. Over the years I have discovered that silence, solitude, the reading of Scripture and participation in the Eucharist are bass notes for me. I have come to these through people; through the sharing of that deep longing to be loved.

This has led me to my own cry for love and to share the vulnerability of Jesus, whose life is love. This led me into dark places. I had no words for the pain I felt. I had no words for my longings. And so I began to paint and to find a different language. I painted with my fingers, using oil pastels. I needed to be physically engaged in this conversation with myself. I responded to my own cry with shapes and colours. I was creating a conversation through touch, sight and silence. I let the colours speak to me. I listened to the images. My whole being was engaged.

Then I shared these images with another and a new conversation began. But the more I painted the more I knew the fundamental conversation was between God and me. The more I became aware of myself, the more I was open to hearing the Word of God spoken in silence in these lines and colours. The fact of painting, of single hearted focus takes me beyond self-preoccupation and self-interest. I am listening out for the Other: I am awaiting His coming. The active attention necessary for the creation of a painting itself creates a new and intimate space into which God comes. He is present to me. He comes. He nourishes my heart.

Scripture tells me that God is always turned towards me, and that He longs for me to turn and be with Him, face to face. When I sit to paint, I turn to God. Every painting is an act of conversion. Just as I have this sense of being drawn out of my darkness into the Light of God through painting, so too when I am out walking, I am waiting on God. All of creation speaks: the wind, the light dancing through the autumn leaves, the coldness of winter air, the pregnancy of the early morning, the petite scuttle of a hedgehog and the bejeweled dew on a spider’s web. All these are outside me and yet they are also of me. My eye, my ear, my nose, my hand, my foot draw all this wondrous array of colour, shape and life into my heart. I am made one with creation.

So, what nourishes my inner life ? All that enables me to come into the Presence of the One who loves me.

M. Katharine SSC, Tymawr Convent, Wales

 

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