I Stay In L’Arche Because of the Relationships

November 2015
Tom Murphy,  L’Arche Pastoral Minister

People are sometimes curious about why I have remained in L’Arche all these years now, going back to the autumn of 2002. I certainly did not set out with the intention of being here fifteen years later, so it’s somewhat of a mystery even to me. My pat answer to the question is that I stay in L’Arche because of the relationships. While it’s the neat and easy way to answer the question, relationships are also the truest answer to the question of why anyone might remain in L’Arche for some years. There is much hidden in that quick answer, and I remain in L’Arche because it seems of the utmost importance in our fractured world to continue to plumb the depths and heights of relationship. To paraphrase Jean Vanier, learning how to live truly human relationships is, I’m sure, one reason that God chose me for community and sustains me here.

We read in our worldwide Charter of the Communities of L’Arche that L’Arche is “founded on covenant relationships between people of differing intellectual capacity, social origin, religion and culture”. Covenant relationships seem to be those that flip the script of who’s helping who or who’s the teacher and who’s the student. It seems, too, that covenant relationships are those that break down the walls between people who might initially think they have very little in common and seem quite different from one another on the surface of things. These are relationships that open the heart. So, when I tell people that I remain in L’Arche because of the relationships, it is these very revealing covenant relationships that I am thinking of. It is the way that the core members of our community continue to reveal to me my deepest self and teach me about my own heart (and some of the walls around it in need of crumbling) that keeps me here.

My new role with community is that of the pastoral minister, following in the bright and wise footsteps of Sister Pat Murphy. Being the pastoral minister gives me a chance to reflect more regularly on the lessons of the heart and aspects of the covenant relationships that we are all living here at L’Arche. It also affords me the chance to try to articulate some of those lessons more explicitly. A recent opportunity to be part of a panel discussion on Building and Sustaining Non-Violent Communities at the Agape Community near the Quabbin Reservior in central Massachusetts, gave me a chance to share some of these lessons of L’Arche with a broad audience. I’d like to share one particular story that I told on that panel discussion here, because it highlights a key lesson from L’Arche for the panel’s emphasis on non-violence and it is also, at heart, a story about those covenant relationships that keep me going in L’Arche year after year.

Katie with Tom and other L'Arche members at IONA College

Katie with Tom and other L’Arche members at IONA College

About a year ago, several of us from Irenicon and L’Arche Syracuse spent a few days as guests of Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, sharing about L’Arche with the students of that college. It was a wonderful chance to find some common ground across the perceived differences that might seem to separate our core members from the students. We participated in sports events, a dance, spoke in many classrooms, and developed some great relationships.

On our final day at Iona, we were speaking in front of an early morning class, and I was introducing L’Arche to the students. I could see sleepy, glazed eyes getting more so by the minute as I droned on about the history of L’Arche, providing far too much detail for a classroom full of undergrads at 8:30 in the morning. At one point, Katie Benulis, one of our core members, broke the spell by reaching out to a young woman sitting in the front row of the classroom. Katie shook her hand and provoked a startled smile from her and then moved closer and hugged the young woman, who heartily returned the gesture. Katie then moved up and down the aisles of desks, trailed by Amy, a core member from Syracuse, and they proceeded to hug each and every person in the classroom, including the professor. The drowsy atmosphere of the room was transformed in an instant and everyone was smiling, laughing, and came to comprehend the essence of L’Arche in Katie and Amy’s one simple gesture in a way that all the words I could ever think of to describe it would never achieve.

Hearts were opened that morning by Katie and Amy’s ability to fearlessly enter into relationship, and apparent walls of differing intellectual capacity between students and core members gently crumbled and fell away. Divisions, walls, things that separate us one from another seem to be so much a hallmark of our fractured world. Katie and Amy were teachers of peace and non-violence in the truest sense that morning, bringing people together, calling people out of isolation and helping us to recognize our interconnectedness. This is the essential sign of hope that L’Arche continues to offer our world. It is a lesson I need to continue to learn, and so I’m sure it is why God continues to call me to L’Arche, and continues to call me to covenant relationship with Katie and the rest of our core members.

–Tom Murphy serves as Pastoral Minister for the L’Arche Boston North community