by Andrea Lang
At COTC we have declared that one of the things we hold most dear is the Blessing of Children. As stated in our core values, the Blessing of Children can be taken two ways: children are a blessing to our community, and we are to bless children in service to them “through prayer, teaching, and other forms of encouragement.”
This value could seem saccharine or sentimental; even lofty or idealistic, but Jesus’ words show us how seriously he takes our little ones: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” In regard to these words and a reading of Henri Nouwen’s book Adam, God’s Beloved, I see the Blessing of Children as paradigm shifting, kingdom building; essential for the body of Christ.
Nouwen describes his time with a man named Adam in a community called L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto. “L’Arche is an international federation of communities, based on the Beatitudes and founded by Canadian Jean Vanier in 1964. Each community consists of homes in ordinary neighborhoods where folks with disabilities and their assistants live together sharing life in a spirit of mutuality.” Adam is refered to as a core member “because those with disabilities are at the heart of the community life that forms around them”. Adam’s disabilities were greater than the community was prepared to care for. Over a period of time through friendship with his family, training of assistants, and remodeling of facilities, Adam was welcomed to the community where his brother already lived as a core member. Those that the world ostracizes, marginalizes, keeps at a distance, disregards, barely tolerates, often abuses and ignores are brought to the center, the core. L’Arche’s charter states “people with mental handicaps often possess qualities of welcome, wonderment, spontaneity and directness” and that they are a “living reminder to the wider world of the essential values of the heart.”
Nouwen goes on to describe how when he came to L’Arche he was assigned to help Adam with his two hour morning routine; the newest and least experienced member of the community assigned to the one with the greatest physical needs. He said he “began with fear and trembling”. When Nouwen questioned his assignment the response was always, “So that you can get to know Adam.” Nouwen describes that over time as he became “confident and relaxed. My mind and heart were opening for a real meeting with this man who had joined me on this life’s journey.” As he worked with Adam he began to see himself at the center of the community, just like Adam. Adam was total vulnerable, daily receiving care for his physical needs by those that ministered to him. Nouwen and other caregivers found they also received “a presence and a safe space to recognize and accept their own, often invisible disabilities”.
In another place in the book Adam ministers to a women named Cathy who comes to visit the community. Plagued by depression, Cathy “was asking the question we all ask: If people knew us as we really are, without all the worldly decorations we have gathered, would they still love us? Or would they forget us as soon as we were no longer useful to them?” Adam and his housemates minister to her profoundly as they demand nothing of Cathy, “not even thanks.” Adam offers her a place where, for the first time in her life, she is welcome to be just as she is. Nouwen states profoundly that, “when I had the courage to look deeper, to face my emotional neediness, my inability to pray, my impatience and restlessness, my many anxieties and fears, the word ‘handicap’ started to have a whole new meaning.”
My heart leaps at the conviction that I want to be in a community where this happens. I want to be where those on the edge of society – the least and the needy – are at the center and called “core members.” Where these are lifted up, ministered to, delighted in, deeply cared for, and in turn I am safe, where my vulnerabilities, invisible handicaps, shortcomings and insecurities are ministered to as well. I hear Christ’s call anew, “do not hinder the children, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Children are such a group, that the world declares are not yet full members of society, they can’t vote, they often have no voice, they are marginalized, abused, taken for granted, considered bothersome; they don’t fit in yet. We live out something different when we say we value The Blessing of Children. We acknowledge their full membership, and as we serve those with the most need, we find ourselves, as Henri Nouwen did, at the “core” of the community.
We are those always-welcome sons and daughters under the wings of our Heavenly Father. Service, unity, purpose and calling take on new meaning when we hear the “radical call to accept the truth of our lives and to choose to give our love when we are strong and to receive the love of others when we are weak.”