One of the signs that a community is alive can be found in material things. Cleanliness, furnishings, the way flowers are arranged and meals prepared, are among the things which reflect the quality of people’s hearts. Some people may find material chores irksome; they would prefer to use their time to talk and be with others. They haven’t yet realized that the thousand and one small things that have to be done each day, the cycle of dirtying and cleaning, were given by God to enable us to communicate through matter. Cooking and washing floors can become a way of showing our love for others. If we see the humblest task in this light, everything can become communion and so celebration – because it is celebration to be able to give.
It is important, too, to recognize the humble and material gifts that others bring and to thank them for them. Recognition of the gifts of others is essential in community. All it takes is a smile and two small words – “Thank you.”
When we put love into what we do, it becomes beautiful.
When we put love into what we do, it becomes beautiful, and so do the results. There is a lack of love in a dirty or untidy community. But the greatest beauty is in simplicity and lack of affectation, where everything is oriented toward a meeting of people among themselves and with God. The way we look after the house and garden shows whether we feel really at home, relaxed, and peaceful. The house is the nest; it is like an extension of the body. Sometimes we tend to forget the role of the environment in liberation and inner growth.
Our lives in L’Arche are disarmingly simple. We often say that half the day is taken up with dirtying things and the other half with cleaning up! That is not entirely true because we also have work, celebrations, meals, and prayer. But that does say something about the littleness and ordinariness of our lives.
From Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People chapter twenty-five.
From Jean Vanier, Community and Growth (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989), 297–298.
Photograph from clairlythgoe.co.uk.com.