Living with L’Arche this summer, and now living and working with a homeless community in Boston called MANNA, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about the idea that ‘All are Welcome’.
The Rev. Cristina Rathbone, head priest and founder of the MANNA community, explains what it means to be welcome in our community, and her words resonate with the welcome I experienced in L’Arche:
“It doesn’t matter if you are drunk, or high, or if you are suffering from mania, or depression, or psychosis of any kind at all. It is fine if you are a very slow person who has a hard time speaking, or a very gifted person who has come to feel trapped teaching at the nation’s greatest university...It doesn’t matter if you are straight, or gay, or trans, or Black, or Native American, or Latino, or Chinese, or Lebanese, or Moroccan, or if you are physically disabled, clean, or downright filthy. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a pair of shoes, or a change of clothes to call your own, or if you have ten bags that you have to walk up and down the stairs over and over again to trail along with you into the room, or if you are a genius poet, or illiterate (or both)...you can live in a penthouse, or in the alcove of a 7-11. You can be law-abiding, or have a criminal record as long as your arm. Whoever you are, however you are, you are as welcome with us as anyone else -- and, if you choose, you can find a place in our community where you will be known, and needed, and loved.”
Living with and befriending those who are often overlooked and dehumanized by our society expands my ability to welcome. I don’t mean this in the sense that the marginalized are somehow more difficult to welcome. Actually, quite the opposite! The profound welcome I’ve experienced from these friends has caused me to re-examine my own internal spaciousness (and its current limits).
I realize that welcome is not only something I extend to others, it is equally (if not more so!) something I must first extend to myself. But this means I must welcome my own places of weakness in order to fully encounter another – this can be so frightening!
So instead of doing this, I tend to load self-protective conditions on my welcome: do you share my values? Can you carry on an interesting conversation? Perhaps I value achievement, and this affects who I welcome and in what ways.
The core members at L’Arche, and now the community members with MANNA, very seldom care about these things. My welcome is not conditional on what I did before becoming part of the community. What I studied, where I worked, what awards I have received – all background noise compared to the presence of God in me. I might share this biographical information with Christianne, a friend with Down syndrome, in between episodes of Law & Order SVU, but it never affects her desire to know me. Relationship becomes entirely about wanting to be loved and accepted, as we all do, and to love and accept in return.
In simply loving and allowing ourselves to be loved, we each find purpose – we are known, we are needed, we see ourselves and each other as we most truly are: beloved.