Saturday, March 15, 2014

Thoughts on a week of solitude and community


I'm back from Montreal, tired and happy. It was a beautiful, busy first week of Lent for me, full of solitude and community, celebrated in both of Canada's official languages. If I wasn't quite so tired (hard bed and busy brain to blame), I'd be as excited as the disciples at Jesus' transfiguration!

It was a wonderful experience to help as musician/accompanier at L'Arche Canada's Emmaus Retreat for assistants. 23 people who live with people with disabilities in L'Arche communities spread from Vancouver to Halifax came to Villa St. Martin on the bank of Riviere des Prairies for a week of silence, reflection and talks about their journey with people with disabilities. They learned (if they didn't already know) that sometimes it's a good idea to "unplug" -- to take a break from routines, technology, noise and activity to just rest a while, consider life in L'Arche, and listen to the still, small voice within that speaks of God's love in day-to-day life.

Our team of six leaders was amazed by the sincerity and depth of the assistants, how they embraced the silence, were eager to hear the talks, to share their insights from the talks one-on-one with their accompaniers, and to participate in small group discussions. In this era of instant communication and hi-tech gadgets and devices, it was amazing to see how many of them took full advantage of the opportunity to put away their smart phones and follow the week's simple program to renew themselves by reflecting on their relationships with their communities' core members, assistants, leaders -- and their relationship with God.

The week's gifts to me were the opportunity to attend mass in French in the lovely little chapel (pictured above) before breakfast each morning, the meeting with and sharing of the assistants I was invited to accompany, and a deepened sense of the importance of both solitude and community in my own life. I need to make time for quiet and reflection, but I also need the demands of community to keep me real.

Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche, understood the importance of both community and solitude. I love the following quotes:
Communities are a sign that it is possible to live on a human scale, even in the present world. They are a sign that we do not have to be slaves to work, to inhuman economies, or to the stimulations of artificial leisure.... A community should be... a sign that it is possible for people to live together, love each other, celebrate and work for a better world and a fellowship of peace... a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other... We have to learn to live each day and find our own internal and external rhythms. (Community and Growth p. 310.)
Solitude does not separate me from others; it helps me to love them more tenderly, realistically and attentively. I begin to distinguish between the false solitude which is a flight from others to be alone with egoism, sadness or a bruised sensitivity, and the true solitude which is communion with God and others. (Community and Growth p. 189.) 
When's the last time you've taken advantage of some silence and solitude, and allowed it to deepen your love for those around you? How is your sense of communion with others? I hope this season of Lent can be a time for us all to live both solitude and community well.

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