21 August 2007

Not a solution, but a sign

One of my absolutely favourite podcasts is Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett. The guests are intriguing, the show is well produced and Krista asks thoughtful questions. Last week she did a broadcast on L'Arche, a community formed around people with mental disabilities. L'Arche may ring a bell for some of you who are readers of books on spirituality and spiritual nurture. The Toronto home was where the author Henri Nouwen spent the last years of his life, as an assistant to one of the mentally disabled core members. He wrote about it in a number of his books, including In the Name of Jesus which I wrote about in an earlier post.

The entire podcast is well worth a listen (it can be downloaded from the website or found on iTunes), but one comment has stuck with me, like a songline you can't get out of your head, like one of those sappy songs from High School Musical. "We’re soarin’, flyin.’ There’s not a star in heaven that we can’t reach..." Sorry, got a little distracted there for a moment.

Here is the quote that keep repeating itself in my head:
What we say that we want to be, and what I think that we are, is we want to be a sign of hope. In the charter of L'Arche we say that, you know, we can't serve every person with a mental handicap. We're not out to be a solution for anything, but more of a sign. You know, our visitors are really important, our pilgrims are very important to us because we live this every day, and we can tend to think there's nothing extraordinary about what we do. When our pilgrims come in—I like that term—you know, they tell us that we're living something that's very unique and very different. And so a lot of times at the end of the week, they're telling about this wonderful experience that they've had and we're sitting around thinking 'Wow. Where were we?' You know, to know that what we're living and how we're living, it has a profound effect on hundreds of people. You know, and that's where the sign of hope comes in. -- Ms. Jo Anne Horstmann, L'Arche
"We're not out to be a solution for anything, but more of a sign"

Huh. As an idea person, I'm usually striving to get the big picture in order to put all the components of the picture into the proper context. I've found it easy to get overwhelmed with trying to be the solution to some huge problem. The first thing I thought of when I heard the above comments, was that it sounds a lot like Jesus. The Gospel of John tells us that if we attempted to record all the works Jesus did, the world couldn't hold all the books it would produce (John 21:25). He was indeed a busy man. But he didn't solve all the world's problems. In fact, John intentionally left out descriptions of much of what he did, and instead, listed seven of Jesus' miracles, referring to them as "signs." In other words, in the same way that L'Arche doesn't seek to meet the need of every individual with a mental handicap, Jesus didn't heal every sick person in Israel or feed every hungry person he came in contact with. Nevertheless, the things Jesus did choose to do were neither a meaningless attempt against an ocean of need (throwing back a starfish or two) nor the complete solution to a global problem. Each person he healed, each miracle he performed, was a sign -- a sign of hope, love and joy, a sign of his future kingdom, the domain in which he is king.

Maybe, just maybe, I'm free to not change the world, to not be a solution to some pressing global problem. Maybe God has called me to be like Jesus, like the L'Arche community, and to do little acts of goodness to ordinary people in my little community. Nothing extraordinary, but signs that point to a future kingdom -- a kingdom of hope, love, and joy.

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