Michael Hrynuik, in examining the L’Arche communities for ways to help us understand God and each other better, points out that our understanding of what makes a person whole in modern Western Culture (or at least modern culture influenced by standard Western European thought processes) is primarily defined by autonomy: self-sufficiency, self-determination and self-possession. Indeed the isolation of the self is a process that has been developing in the Western world for quite sometime. The importance of “I” over “We” has been stressed and over expressed for the last two hundred years or more.
Without building too heavily on – and getting distracted by – the idea that the growth of the nation state began us on this road to individualism by separating us in entirely new ways than we had been before – certainly our country could be identified by not just our growing isolationistic tendencies (much more pronounced in the last two years than before), but also the nationalist fervor which has been built into every aspect of our life together – including theological – for the last two hundred or so years. I’m not saying that the US doesn’t have the right to have a unique identity or that we shouldn’t be proud of it. I am saying that for Christians in America, when we use our national identity to justify standing further apart from those suffering injustice and marginalization, we betray part of the opportunity that our nation affords us, and that our Christian faith demands of us.
“Become Weaker,” which Jean Vanier suggests, is difficult for us to contemplate. Protestant Work Ethic has us believe that those who do not work should not benefit. Capitalistic thought, as taught to the masses, certainly reinforces this idea. The unique attitude of the L’Arche community – which emphasizes relationship as primary and important in life and understanding of God – that we become closer to God as we become more dependent on one another is challenging to me. Even with two sons on the Autism spectrum I look for how I can help them contribute to society even when I realize that they may always require some level of help to function in that society.
L’Arche’s model suggests that rather than being defined by our autonomy we are in fact defined by our relationships with others. Not just other people, but by our relationship with God: Theonomy. Just as the image of the Trinitarian God is one “of the Three Persons who are always seeking to go beyond Themselves, toward the Other, receiving each Other from each Other” (Hryniuk, Theology, Disability, and Spiritual Transformation: Learning from the Communities of L’Arche, Cambria, New York, p. 249), so we are engaged in a dynamic relationship with God. The theonomous person is in “personal communion with self, others, and God.” Our very identity is found in these perichoretic and fully mutual relationships.
And perhaps this is where “Become Weaker” is useful advice. It certainly opens us up to relying on these relationships in a way we did not before by insisting that we do rely on others for the things we require. It is difficult for me to contemplate, because it is so antithetical to the way that I have been thinking all my life. Following Jesus requires revolution not just without but within as well. May I continue to revolutionize my thinking as I pursue theonomy and dynamic relationship with my fellow human beings.