note: because of my ongoing involvement with out of the cold [ootc], i found this section–especially what he writes about marginal people–very interesting. also, his thoughts on homosexuality and on shaping reality….
welcoming starts with how you perceive the world: ‘i have many filters where i select and modify the reality i want to welcome…. i select what pleases me, boosts my ego and gives me a sense of self-worth. i reject that which causes inner pain or disturbance or a feeling of helplessness…. to grow is to let go of these filters and to welcome the reality that is given, no longer through preconceived ideas, theories, prejudgements or prejudices or through our wounded emotions, but just as it is. thus, we are in truth and no longer in a world of illusions.’
‘to welcome is to make the stranger feel at home [cf. Matthew 25:35], at ease, and that means not exercising any judgements or preconceived ideas, but rather giving space to be…. it is always a risk to welcome anyone and particularly the stranger…. we need constant challenge if we are not to become dependent on security and comfort.’
‘to welcome is … the constant openness of the heart;… to welcome means listening a great deal to people and then discerning the truth with them.’ what if they don’t want to or can’t discern the truth? what if their truth differs?
‘a community cannot accept as a resident every single person that knocks at the door…. there must be a peaceful space…. if that peaceful space is lacking, then it is better not to welcome. at the same time, the people welcomed must try to accept the community as it is.’
‘openness and welcome sometimes challenge us to go beyond our fears and prejudices to the depth of compassion and understanding. at the same time we must respond from our own deepest search for the truth.’
he then discusses his personal interest in homosexuality. is jv’s view coloured because he sees unhappy homosexual people, people who wish they weren’t homosexual? homosexuality is a minority, but so is left-handedness. on any given night at the shelter, one of our guests is homosexual. because of this difference, does he or she feel unwelcome? jv concludes, those ‘who have experienced a profound psychological hurt [what about those homosexual people who did not experience a profound psychological hurt?] often have a quality of sensitivity and spirituality that can be a gift and a grace.’ however, ‘community implies open relationships and not possessive ones. it is built on relationships that give life to others rather than ones that turn upon themselves.’
‘welcome is vital for a community. it is a question of life and death and the first welcome is very often the important one’, especially when welcoming those who are marginal, who ‘need to sense that they are not being judged, but are really understood.’ however, ‘a community which welcomes marginal people has to make clear to them when they arrive exactly what it expects of them.’
‘marginal people live in darkness, without motivation or hope. they are forced to compensate for their anguish–which may even prevent them from sleeping or eating–in drugs, or alcohol, or ”madness”. it takes time for hope to be reborn and their anguish to be transformed into peace…. they vacillate between love of light and a desire to remain in chaos and tragedy. their ambivalence spills over…. the role of a community of reconciliation is to break the cycle of violence and so lead people to peace.’ but ootc is not ‘a community of reconciliation’. it isn’t even a community by jv’s definition.
reviewing bettelheim’s love is not enough, he writes, ‘here is an important message for anyone who tries to help people in anguish and distress.’ can we truly help? how, if ootc is not a vanierian community? is providing meals, bed, an ear enough? where is the hope, the love, that people need? jv writes that we have to know:
- ‘how to accept crises, violence and depression’
- ‘what people are trying to say, … to decode the messages that are sent through bizarre behaviour’
- how ‘to respond authentically’
- ‘certain laws of human nature [what laws?] and how human beings grow through work and relationships’
- ‘how to lead people towards inner healing [how?]’
- ‘how to enter into authentic relationships’
a tall order for volunteers. what if as long as the guests are inside the shelter they behave, and what they do outside stays outside?
‘there is no conflict between faith and psychiatry;’ but one has to discern ‘what has to do with the priest and spirituality, and what has to do with psychiatry; the two areas often overlap. at l’arche,… our therapy is based on authentic relationships lived in community, work and a true spiritual life. all these bring people to hope, self-acceptance, and motivation…, [to] security and peace.’
the psychiatric role of the priest:
- hears confession, forgives on behalf of jesus, relieves guilt, brings a sense of acceptance, belonging, and love
- assuages fear of death by performing funerals
- reveals through eucharist and communal prayer our commonality, whether abled or not
- combats existential angst (loneliness): ‘we are all handicapped before god, prisoners of our own egoism…. [but jesus] loves us and is with us: “do not be afraid. i am with you.” ‘
the seriousness of our welcome: ‘we [the mentally able? the mainstream?] accept them [the mentally unable? or marginal people in general?] as they are, imposing no ideal on them’. sometimes, though, ‘we have to learn to be true and firm, and at the same time tender and compassionate.’
‘the important thing is to know exactly what we want and then be vulnerable to show that we really care for people.’
there is a great need for communities of welcome these days ‘to live with people who have no other family, and to show them that they are loved … and that they, in turn, can love’.