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Communal journeys : a phenomenological inquiry into the experience of living and working in L’Arche Bazinet, Jean-Claude 1995

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COMMUNAL JOURNEYS: A PHENOMENOLOGICAL INQUIRY INTO THE EXPERIENCE OF LIVING AND WORKING IN L'ARCHE by JEAN-CLAUDE BAZINET B.ED.,Universite du Quebec a Montreal, 1981 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES Department of Counselling Psychology We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA December 1995 ©Jean-Claude Bazinet, 1995 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada DE-6 (2/88) Abstract In spite of the frequent usage of the word community to describe various groups and social networks in our society, the nature of the experience of community living has been largely unexplored. As a response to this lack of research , this inquiry attempted to answer the question of what community meant to six members of the residential communities of L'Arche, an international network of communities where people with and without disabilities live and work together. L'Arche was selected because it represents an extreme effort to establish a whole way of life based on communal values. The phenomenological research method incorporated twelve in-depth, open-ended interviews. Analysis of gathered information revealed six themes and 17 subthemes. The themes describe the participants' experiences of making a purposeful decision, adopting a communal way of life, deepening their spiritual and religious orientations, enhancing personal growth, facing personal limitations, and being involved in conflicts and disagreements. Each of these themes contains from one to four subthemes which are dynamically interdependent and revelatory of the complexity of the shared experience. The pattern described is a more complete picture of the meaning of the experience of living and working in L'Arche than previously available in the research literature. i i i TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstracts ii Table of Contents iii Acknowledgments vii CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION 1 CHAPTER II REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 8 Intentional Communities 8 The Nature of Intentional Communities 10 L'Arche 13 The Story of L'Arche 14 The Philosophy of L'Arche 15 The Value of People with Developmental Disabilities 16 The Importance of Positive Personal Relationships 17 The Importance of a Sense of Community 19 The Spiritual Dimension 21 Ecumenism in L'Arche 23 The Communal Ethos of L'Arche 24 Phases in Community Life in L'Arche 28 The Camphill Communities 32 Research on L'Arche 34 Summary 36 CHAPTER III METHODOLOGY 39 Overview of Research Method 39 Formulations of the Research Questions 40 Data Collection and Procedures 41 In-Depth Interviewing 41 iv First Interview 42 Second Interview 44 Overview of the Interviews 45 Reliability and Validity 45 Analysis and Interpretation of the Narratives 48 Selection of the Research Participants 50 The Research Participants 52 Site Selection 53 L'Arche Shiloah 53 Residents 53 Assistants 53 Regulations 55 Definition of Terms 56 CHAPTER IV RESULTS 57 Thematization : The Phenomenology of the Experience of Living and Working in L'Arche 57 Theme I: The Experience of L'Arche Involves a Purposeful Decision-Making Process 59 Constancy of Initial Motivations 64 Theme II: The Experience of L'Arche Involves a Communal Way of Life 65 Congruence with Personal Values and Beliefs 65 An Alternative Approach to Work and Service 67 A Place to Call Home 70 Theme III: The Experience of L'Arche Involves a Religious and Spiritual Dimension 74 Faith 74 Spirituality 77 Conversion 79 Ecumenism 82 Theme IV: The Experience of L'Arche Promotes Growth and Learning ....83 Discovery and Development of a Unique Gift 83 Process of Self-Discovery and Self-Development 85 Difficulties as Milestones of Growth 90 Theme V: The Experience of L'Arche Confronts Participants with their Own Limitations 93 Adjusting to an Extensive Workload 93 Interpersonal Stress in Relationships with Core People 96 Interpersonal Stress in Relationships with Assistants 97 Personal Limitations 100 Theme VI: The Experience of L'Arche Involves Disagreements and Conflicts 102 Repercussions of an Unresolved Conflicts 102 Disagreements and Hurts 104 Narrative of the Experience of Living and Working in L'Arche 107 CHAPTER V DISCUSSION 112 Significance of the Findings 112 Comparison with Previous Theories and Research 112 Implications for L'Arche 119 Implications for Future Research 121 Implications for Counselling 124 Clinical Practice 124 v i Consultation 128 Personal Reflections on L'Arche and the Research Process 130 Summary 132 REFERENCES 134 APPENDICES A. Contact Letter to Community 143 B. Contact Letter to Participants 144 C. Consent Form 145 D. Charter of the Communities of L'Arche 146 E McMillan and Chavis's (1986) Model of Sense of Community 150 F. List of Presuppositions 152 G Adler's (1975) Cross-Cultural Transition Stages 154 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS In any lenghty undertaking such as a thesis, there are a number of people who have made invaluable contributions, both personally and professionally, to the final outcome. I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to my thesis advisor, Richard Young, for his insights, his thoughtful critique, and his support. My gratitude is also extended to the members of my commitee, Bill Borgen and Paul Burns. My thanks are extended to the members of my "thesis comforting group", Eri Ishii, Pam Paterson, Judy Bushnell, and Jacquie Farquhart, for sharing the trials and satisfactions of conducting a research project, and to Christiane Richards and Yves Gagnon for their friendships and on-going support. My deepest appreciation is also expressed to the men and women who took time from their busy schedules to talk to me about their experience of L'Arche and bare their inner lives as they revealed the realities of living and working in L'Arche. I am grateful to my daughter, Emma, who was born six months ago, and who kept reminding me of what is most important in life. Most of all, my appreciation and gratitude is extended to my wife, Akiko, who lived this project with me from beginning to end, and who was a constant source of support and encouragement to me. Finally, I would like to dedicate this study to the memory of Brigitte Massot who introduced me to L'Arche Shiloah nearly ten years ago. Brigitte died in a car accident on July 14th 1995 at the age of thirty. May this thesis honor her. C H A P T E R O N E Introduction "Plants have roots, spiders have webs and people have relationships." William Blake In an account of his experience of loneliness one of my clients asked, "Will I ever find a place where I belong?" Counsellors hear similar statements regularly from clients who feel anxious, lonely, or discouraged: "I feel as if I am all alone in this world... I'm not important to anyone... I don't fit anywhere..." These statements are often associated with a number of psychological conditions, including depression, lack of personal meaning, and low self-esteem (Sarason, 1974). However, upon closer examination such statements also appear to reflect a common phenomenon of modern life: the loss of a sense of community. The loss of a sense of community or of communal relations is a major theme in our modern culture. In fact, Sarason (1974) claims that "the absence or the dilution of a psychological sense of community is the most destructive dynamic in the lives of people in our society" ( p. 96). This loss has been associated with many contemporary problems: social anomie, isolation and loneliness, loss of local autonomy and personal involvement in one's community, increasing prevalence of personality and emotional disorders, and perhaps most seriously, a growing inability to enter into cooperative, authentic, and interdependent relationships with other human beings (Cushmann, 1990; Glynn, 1981; Maher, 1992). This erosion of a sense of community has been attributed to several causes, and notably to the rise of industrialism and mass consumerism, the growth of a mobile society, the anonymity of city living, the weakening of traditional institutions, and to centralized bureaucratic structures (Maher, 1992). Many authors (e.g., Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler & Tipton, 1985; Lasch, 1978) have described how the hyper-individualism of North American society and the emergence of a self-centered "me-istic" worldview have undermined our ability to relate to one another and to make sense of our lives. As Hargrove (1984) argues, "While it has become a duty to develop the self, the very concentration on the individual has precluded the possibility of developing the social character of the self, thus maiming and crippling what is understood to be the essence of humanity" (pp. ix-x). According to McKnight (1987, 1994), Schwartz (1992), and Taylor, Bogan, and Racino (1991), our widespread reliance on professional and social services has also dramatically contributed to the weakening of our associational ties. McKnight (1987) argues, As we think about ourselves, our community and institutions, many of us recognize that we have been degraded because our roles as citizens and our communities have been traded in for the right to clienthood and consumer status. Many of us have come to recognize that as we exiled our fallible neighbours to the control of managers, therapists, and technicians, we lost much of our power to be vital center of society. We forgot about the capacity of every single one of us to do good work and, instead, made some of us into the objects of good works -servants of those who serve, (p. 58) As the power and influence of institutionalized service systems have grown, our communities and their associations have declined. Yet they need not necessarily be in opposition and cooperative initiatives are not only possible but much needed, for as McKnight (1994) states, To build a healthful society we need two tools. One is a system. The other is a community. Neither can substitute for the other, but systems can displace communities or enhance them. To enhance community health, we need a new breed of modest health professionals, people who respect the integrity and wisdom of citizens and their associations. They will understand the kinds of information that will enable citizens to design and solve problems. They will direct some systems resources to enhancing associational powers. And, above all, they will focus upon magnifying the gifts, capacities, and assets of local citizens and their associations, (p. 25) With our society becoming less affluent and increasingly failing to meet our basic needs for relationships, work, and physical security, "community building" may indeed soon be recognized as among the most crucial issues humans have to face in this decade and in the next century. Echoing this concern, Poplin (1972) believes that "the answer to many of our deepest problems is to restore the common bonds which seem no longer to typify the social life of modern communities" (p. 7). But is it possible once again to achieve a sense of community, belongingness and emotional security in our communities or is it merely wishful thinking? Is our belief in the strong "common bonds" of the past only a metaphor for a deep-seated need for full and open emotional relations with others? Have they even ever existed? And what do the social sciences have to tell us about community phenomena and communal living experiences? Unfortunately, studies of community development processes are rare (Heller, 1989). In comparison to the 1970's when social scientists made important contributions to the study of communal phenomena and processes (e.g., Kanter, 1972, 1973; Zablocki, 1980a, 1980b), there has been very little systematic research in that area in the last 15 years. Psychology, in particular, appears to have chosen to overlook community as a research topic in spite of its crucial importance for individual and societal well-being, for with the exception of a few journal articles and a few brief discussions in longer volumes, community has not been part of its conversations, its literature, or its research. As a response to this lack of research, this study will attempt to answer the question of what community means to a number of members from a community of L'Arche, an international network of spiritually based, intentional communities where people with and without developmental disabilities have chosen to live and work together. L'Arche has been selected because it represents an extreme effort to establish a whole way of life based on communal values. In addition, whereas few communal ventures in North America last longer than a few years (Zablocki, 1980a), L'Arche has been remarkably stable and successful since its inception in 1964 and has since developed into an international network of "service communities" spread over the five continents. The potential significance and the complexity and richness of the L'Arche model also extends beyond a mere service to the disabled; the lifestyle of L'Arche with its emphasis on the creation of intimate ties, on helping individuals who are disabled develop their abilities, on enhancing social responsibilities, and on translating personal values and beliefs into concrete shared goals and actions, is very much in tension with most of our utilitarian post-industrial and bureaucratic culture (Risse, 1981). It represents not only an alternative to traditional services and domestic arrangements, but, more importantly, seeks a radical restructuring of the entire lives of its members. Consequently, it may provide a unique laboratory in which to investigate how to institute a community vision and how far we can stretch interpersonal and psychological boundaries in a natural social environment. It may also afford us a window into the malleability of the human personality. The communal household is no doubt the rare exception in the mid-1990s. Although there are no polls or government statistics to guide us, it is safe to estimate that these households represent a very small percentage of the population. So why would researchers want to bother looking so carefully at a small, unrepresentative corner of our society? There are several reasons to study community living. First, a socio-psychological understanding of communal relations and organizations could benefit those currently involved in this way of life. Second, such research may also guide efforts to adapt communal living principles and structures to non-communal or partly communal organizations. Although the conditions required to facilitate the intentional creation of a sense of community in communal groups unmistakably differ from those of other organizations, they may nonetheless be adapted to professionally administered institutions (e.g., nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals) that have traditionally overstressed organization and structure, and so often hampered participation, involvement and a sense of self-development among their clients. A third reason to study communal living is that it may benefit the growing number of residents and workers of shared housing programs for various demographic groups (i.e., people discharged from psychiatric hospitals, the developmentally disabled, adolescents in trouble, elders, or single parents). While shared housing is often advocated for these groups, there is still a dearth of information about how to make shared living work, and intentional movements such as L'Arche could provide useful knowledge and guidance in this area (Schwartz, 1993). This information may also assist those who are intentionally creating community through cooperative household, personal and professional support groups, and collaborative projects such as communal gardens, electronic networks or neighborhood improvement programs to name but a few. A fourth reason to study communal groups is that research may act as a safeguard against the excess and abuse that can take place in a communal setting. Throughout history, there has been many instances of the negative effects of strong communal identity. When group rights and group identity are threatened, the emotional power to belong to the group can easily be distorted or exploited, and has led countless people throughout history to fight and even die for the sake of their various group distinctions. The tragedies of Jonestown, Waco, and more recently of the Solar Temple, are only three horrifying reminders of the potential destructiveness of group thinking when fueled by fanaticism, greed and intolerance. This "dark" side of human nature and human communities underscores the crucial importance for any group (of any size for that matter) to know itself, and especially to recognize its tendency to scapegoat or marginalize those who are different, if it does intend to build communities that enrich rather than harm its members. The study of cooperative and communal ventures that have endured over time and are recognized for their abilities to articulate and sustain a set of social and moral values would add to the limited available information about the functioning of such small groups in the natural social world. It could also identify factors that contribute to safety and growth in these settings. The personal "beginning" of this study has its origin in a three year period during which I lived as assistant at L'Arche in the late 1980's. This involvement was a profoundly valuable, demanding, and formative experience that made me fully aware of the greatness and difficulty of living in close relationship with others. It also reinforced my conviction that the weakening of our principal institutions (e.g., nuclear and extended family, educational system , health care system) and the resultant disintegration of cultural/moral traditions and socialization processes, make groups and associations uniquely important today as sources of experience, meaning, and empowerement, and as a key to social and moral development. Because they focus on individuals as relational beings and rely on relationships for growth, learning, and change, groups and associations in general (and group living in particular) may point to alternatives to the rootlessness of much of urban life. They may teach us important lessons about what may be done to enhance greater cohesiveness in our natural neighborhoods and relational communities. This study did not intend, however, to demonstrate the superiority or effectiveness of community living as a lifestyle, nor did it intend to focus on its deficiencies or failures. Rather, my aim was simply to illustrate as accurately as possible the phenomena studied. It was my hope that this would enable the reader to get a clearer understanding of community living at L'Arche and of the complex and elusive phenomena of community. C H A P T E R T W O Literature Review In this section I shall seek to describe and discuss intentional communities and the L'Arche movement. For our purpose an intentional community will be defined as "a group of persons associated together [voluntarily] for the purpose of establishing a whole way of life. As such, it shall display to some degree, each of the following characteristics: common geographical location; economic interdependence; social, cultural, educational, and spiritual inter-exchange of uplift and development" (Zablocki, 1980b, p. 19). In the literature, L'Arche communities are occasionally referred as a network of intentional communities in that they have been established with a precise purpose or intention in mind (Dunne, 1986; Schwartz, 1992; Taylor, Bogan, & Racino, 1991). Intentional Communities Intentional communities have a very long history, and some scholars believe communitarianism has been a recurrent social phenomenon for over two thousand years in the West (Bennett, 1975; Zablocki, 1980b). The Bruderhof and the Amish in the United States and the Mennonite Brethren and the Hutterites in Canada are among the best known formal groups for having practised communal living in North America (Miller, 1990; Redekop, 1975). Although these collective settlements have differed greatly in their philosophies, they have shared a deep-felt concern about the social ills of the larger society and the need to establish a cultural alternative to it. As Kanter (1973) states, "Practically all Utopias [intentional communities] have attempted to substitute cooperation for competition, mutual support for hostility, meaningful solidary [sic] relations for fragmented, nonexpressive relations, and involvement for isolation" (p. 5). More recently, the 1965-1975 period witnessed a renewed interest in communitarianism as a lifestyle. This period saw the formation of thousands of (mostly short-lived) communes, and drew a great deal of attention to this alternative lifestyle. This communal movement derived in large part from the hope brought about by the counterculture for the creation of a new way of life significantly different, in many ways, from those of the dominant culture (Zicklin, 1983). The following quote by Kanter (1970) captures something typical of the idealism of the movement of the time: The communal experience offers a provocation to conventional modes of organizing collective values, sharing cooperation rather than individual ambition or achievement. It promises a heightening of intimacy and closeness, instead of distance, impersonal and competitive relationship. It promises a return to the land, and to the natural and spiritual components of life. (p. 60) In a longitudinal study of 60 communal living groups, Aidala and Zablocki (1991) lent support to the commonly held notion that the decision to join a commune was, at least in part, a young adulthood life cycle effect, with 78 % of their sample joining between the age of 20 and 30. The authors also emphasized the crucial importance of the historical and social-cultural circumstances of the 1965-1975 decade to explain communal participation. The most common motivation reported for choosing to live communally was "consensual community" - the desire to live with others who share similar ideals and values and to work cooperatively to create a lifestyle that reflects their shared common purpose. Although communal groups have been in quantitative decline since the 1970s, the 1994 edition of the Directory of intentional communities (Fellowship for Intentional Community and Communities Publications Cooperative, 1994) indicates that the search for "genuine community" is still very much present. The directory provides a description of more than 300 communities in North America, including more than 50 new communities started in the past five years. (In the absence of a comprehensive census of intentional communities, however, these data cannot form the basis of a reliable estimate of prevalence.) In his extended surveys of social trends and public attitudes, Yankelovich (1981) reported that the number of Americans searching for community stood at 47 % at the beginning of the 1980s, a significant jump of 15 % since his firm's previous survey in 1973 (p. 248). The publication of numerous popular books on community life and community development in the last decade (e.g., Peck, 1987; Shaffer & Anundsen, 1993; Whitmyer, 1993), as well as the emergence of the "Communitarian movement" in the United States (Etzioni, 1993), may also reflect a growing concern for deeper personal relationships and the reaffirmation of a set of values that we as a larger community can endorse and more actively affirm. The nature of intentional communities. Among social studies that have focused on intentional communities, the work of Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1972) has been particularly influential and deserves special attention. Kanter conducted intensive research on American Utopian communities of the nineteenth century and on numerous contemporary communes. She investigated differences between various types of communities and discussed various issues that confront all communities. Kanter (1972) claims that important differences exist between what she calls retreat communities and service communities. In retreat communities communal living is its own purpose; the groups lives together simply in order to live together and friendship is generally the basis of solidarity between members. These communities characteristically lack a shared ideology and are usually held together by a common rejection of traditional values and traditional patterns of family and work. Usually, they do not survive for more than a few months or a few years. According to Kanter, this type of community was characteristic of most of the small hippie communes of the counterculture movement. The service communities, on the other hand, are defined as "communes with missions" (Kanter, 1972, p. 191); they have a strong sense of common purpose, create well-developed structures, impose direction and discipline to their members, and most importantly, see their main goal as that of serving a specific population. The members' shared conceptions of community is worked out not only in the ongoing interactions and everyday routines of members, as in retreat communities, but also out of the altruistic foundations of the ideology that serve to structure and restructure the definition of community. One such community is the Windhorse project (Podvoll, 1990), a therapeutic community that cares for people with severe mental illnesses, and which is based on principles arising from the practice of meditation and Buddhism. Likewise, one might include the L'Arche communities, or inner-city groups that live communally (e.g., the Catholic Worker movement; Murray, 1990), and whose "missions" are to care for the homeless, AIDS patients, battered women, people with disabilities or other neglected minorities, in the category of service communes. In her study of U t o p i a n communities, Kanter (1972) thoroughly analyses the social practices of those communities that lasted the longest (33 years or more). She calls these practices, "commitment mechanisms," sorting them according to the way in which they bring the motivations of the members in harmony with the needs of the community. By adopting these practices, these U t o p i a n communities were able to socialize their members in accepting their worldview and value system, and secure relatively complete commitment. According to Kanter, service communities are much more likely to implement commitment-building practices than retreat communities and tend to have a much longer life expectancy as a result. These commitment mechanisms are mortification ( e.g., resocialization, development of a new identity); transcendence (e.g., community or spirituality as a transcendent source of meaning); renunciation (e.g., rejection of relationships that weaken ties to the community); communion (e.g., high levels of communal sharing and group rituals); sacrifice (e.g., giving up certain things, such as money and privacy, as condition of membership); investment (e.g., investment of resources in the hope of personal improvement). Kanter emphasizes that no community need to adopt them all and that only a combination of these practices is necessary to insure participation of members. In a study of contemporary communes, Gardner (1978) lent support to Kanter's classification. He found that, of communes that had been in existence for three or more years, there was a consistent positive association between duration of the commune and five of the six commitment-mechanisms. Since the early 80's, theoretical discussion and empirical investigation of communal living have been very limited. A computer-aided search of the psychological literature on this topic since 1980 identified less than 30 articles and books that concentrated on communal living as a topic of analysis and research. Much of this scholarly literature has only indirect bearing on the topic at hand: the experience of communal living in an intentional community. These reports emphasize other aspects, such as the situation of parents in communal households (Ferrar, 1982), the therapeutic efficacy of communal social structures (Francis, 1992), the motivations which lead people to live in communities (Chauchat, 1980), the use of communes as a vehicle for studying various social processes (e.g., Aidala & Zablocki, 1991; Bradley, 1987; Zicklin, 1983), or a general descriptive nature of communes (Miller, 1990). There is only one in-depth investigation of a single communal movement (Borowski, 1984). L'Arche The majority of books and articles written on L'Arche (e.g., Clarke, 1974; Spink, 1990; J. Vanier, 1989) are an interesting mixture of spiritual reflections, psychological insights, and anecdotal material. The work of Jean Vanier, in particular, is recognized for its depth and the richness of its reflections. He has evolved a philosophy of active spiritual life, embracing numerous aspects of human affairs: community, work, sexuality, religion and culture, social action, prayer, rituals, relationship and human development, and more. All have received his attention and Vanier writes, as Harris (1987) remarks, "with a wisdom that provokes examination of the meaning of our lives" (p. 323). Although these writings contain significant insights, they also lack psychological concreteness, and are not based on a systematic examination of members' experience of L'Arche or derived from "objective measures". These writings were useful, however, to review the history and ideology of L'Arche. I also consulted a number of theoretical articles on L'Arche published in educational and psychological periodicals. In this review of the L'Arche literature I drew upon the works and writings of scholars (Adler, 1975; Coopersmith, 1984; de la Selle & Maurice, 1986; Downey, 1982; Dunne, 1986; Harris, 1987; McMillan & Chavis, 1986; Shafer & Anundsen, 1993; Shearer, 1976; Schwartz, 1992; Sumarah, 1983/1985, 1987a, 1988; Wolfensberger, 1973) and of members of the L'Arche communities (Clarke, 1974; Egan, 1989; de Miribel, 1981, 1992; Nouwen, 1981, 1987, 1988; O'Donnell, 1990; Saint-Macary, 1981, 1987; Spink, 1990; Standley, 1983; J. Vanier, 1975, 1988, 1989; T. Vanier, 1989). In the following sections 11) present a brief historical overview of the movement, 2) provide an introduction to its philosophy, spirituality, and ecumenical orientation, 3) describe the common cycle of experiences that many assistants undergo in L'Arche, and 4) summarize the findings of three empirical studies on L'Arche. The Story of L'Arche. To speak of L'Arche and understand its history, one must first mention its founding member, Jean Vanier. Thirty years ago, Jean Vanier gave up prominent social status as the son of the former Governor-General of Canada, the late George P. Vanier, and a promising career as a university professor to live communally with Raphael and Phillipe, two men with developmental disabilities, who had been forced to live in institutions, cut off from families and the larger society. He called this first home, "L'Arche", which is French for "the ark" or the place of refuge. Vanier did not have any formal knowledge of mental retardation but he knew they needed an alternative to the institutions in which they were living. When he welcomed these two men into his house, he somehow knew he was making a life-long commitment. His basic desire was to create a community based on the Beatitudes - declarations made at Christ's Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6: 20-49), and to work for peace in a spirit of sharing, openness and profound acceptance of one another (Spink, 1990). His small community soon increased in number, not only of people with disabilities but also of "assistants" (as those who accompany, help and live with the residents, at home or at work are called) who were prepared to share their lives with them. L'Arche communities were soon started elsewhere in France, Canada, India and England. Today there is a federation of over 97 communities spread over 25 countries (de Miribel, 1992). L'Arche has proven to be an innovative alternative to traditional residential care and "a movement of qualitatively vast importance for the future" (Wolfensberger, 1973, p. 14). It also represents a unique attempt to create a more humanizing lifestyle, and can be seen as a countercultural alternative to the ethos of the larger culture (Dunne, 1986). The Philosophy of L'Arche The L'Arche communities are of the type of intentional, ideological social entities. They are designed and constructed for the fulfillment of their aims and principles, which are formulated in the Charter of L'Arche (see Appendix D). Each community is a legal autonomous entity, has its own organizational rules and is more like a loose-knit association of people who share a common philosophy than a rigid organization; yet the communities of L'Arche have a great deal in common and their vision has been greatly inspired by the life, thought, and writings of its founder. Sumarah (1987b) identifies four dimensions to its philosophy. These are: (a) the value of the person with disabilities, (b) the importance of positive personal relationships, (c) the importance of a sense of community, and (d) the spiritual dimension. Based on the writings of L'Arche, I will examine each of these dimensions in greater details. The value of people with developmental disabilities. In modern society, where strength, competition, individualism, success and materialism are valued, people with developmental disabilities may appear futile. There is no cure for their condition. They are "the archetypically useless members of society" (Shearer, 1976. p. 358). Caring for them challenges our values and the values of the society in which we live. What Jean Vanier (Downey, 1982) discovered soon after living with Raphael and Phillipe was that there was more to the person than the head (the intellectual dimension) or the hands (the productive abilities). More important in the person was the heart (the affective and spiritual dimensions). They revealed to him that not only had they something to receive from him but also something to give. This view is representative of the belief of L'Arche in the uniqueness and dignity of people with developmental disabilities; that beyond any handicap there is a person who has something very unique and precious to contribute to the lives of others (Shearer, 1976). They are often called the "core people" suggesting that they are essentially the heart of their communities. Their qualities of openness, hospitality, and simplicity are a direct appeal to the affective dimension of those who live with them and a unifying force within the community. Speaking of his experience with "wounded people", J. Vanier (1975) states: I have learned more about the Gospels from handicapped people, those on the margins of our society, those who have been crushed and hurt, than I have from the wise and the prudent. Through their own growth and acceptance and surrender, wounded people have taught me that I must learn to accept my weaknesses and not pretend to be strong and capable. Handicapped people have shown me how handicapped we all are. They have reminded me that we are all weak and all called to death and that these are the realities of which we are most afraid" (p. Vlll) The importance of positive personal relationships. Our concept of therapy is frequently very restricted. It is perceived as what happens in the consulting room, in the counsellor or psychiatrist's office . In L'Arche, it is believed that the therapeutic dimension can be present in every aspect of life. "As distinct from many other caring groups with a more professional stance, our challenge is to take the risk of relationships, with all its consequences" (Saint-Macary, 1987, p. 3). This acknowledgment of interdependence goes hand in hand with a willingness to find meaning through intense and lasting relations with others, to learn to cooperate and share intimately, and to eventually encounter one's own vulnerabilities and limitations, as well as those of others (Dunne, 1986). As O'Donnell (1990) remarks "Living together" is the charism of L'Arche. We live well and we live badly together, but day by day, imperceptibly, bonds are created, which often last a lifetime" (p. 6). The literature on L'Arche stresses not only the value and dignity of human beings, with or without disabilities, but also the need for genuine relationships in which there is reciprocity. Most assistants, for instance, do not work shifts; they come to offer their presence and skills and to form meaningful ties with the residents, usually for a small stipend and with little personal privacy (Harris, 1987). The expression of hospitality and periodic celebrations (e.g., sharing a meal, accepting visitors, honoring important times) are significant to members of L'Arche and indicators of the way they support one another. According to Coppersmith (1984), a well-known author in the field of family therapy: It is this focus on the natural growth that can occur via relationships in all its aspects, including cognitive, affective, physical, and spiritual, that frequently obliterates distinctions between a care-giver and care-receiver and [which] sets L'Arche apart as a larger system, (p. 152) Harris (1987) likens the relationships formed between assistants and residents to counsellor-client relationships in which the person with a disability is approached with respect, acceptance, and empathy. He believes that the "L'Arche movement offers fertile ground for research" (p. 323), and suggests that the effects of living at L'Arche be investigated through empirical research. Shearer (1976) claims that L'Arche's most important contribution lies in its recognition of the importance of "gift relationships", a phrase she borrows from Titmus (1970). Gift relationships refer to our social and biological need to give of ourselves and contribute to others' well-being. The development of social and professional services has reduced opportunities to have helping and giving relationships in our daily lives. Shearer contends that we must search for ways to protect and encourage the expression of our natural ability to give, and this particularly for people with developmental disabilities or with a mental illness who are often seen as having little or nothing to contribute. 19 The importance of a sense of community. There are not many catchall terms used as frequently today as the word community. We speak of our neighbourhoods, our professional associations, our churches, our ethnic groups as communities regardless of the way we communicate with each other or what we mean to one another. It appears to give the comforting illusion of living in a "community of communities" to contemporary men and women who" in [their] private lives live most often in hermetic isolation within sound-proof people-proof walls" (Fernandez, 1978, p. 23). Community is unfortunately one of the most overworked terms in our vocabulary. The following description of community by Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler and Tipton (1985) illuminates much that might seem obscure in the notion of community: Community is a term used very loosely by Americans today. We use it in a strong sense: a community is a group of people who are socially interdependent, who participates together in discussion and decision making, and who share certain practices that both define the community and are nurtured by it. Such a community is not quickly formed. It almost always has a history and so is also a community of memory, defined in part by its past and its memory of its past. (p. 333) The definition of sense of community proposed by McMillan (McMillan & Chavis, 1986) may provide insights into this elusive but important construct as it is experienced in L'Arche: "Sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging and being important to each other, and a shared faith that members' needs will be met by their commitment to be together" (p.11). The renewal of society through communal living and the experience of a strong sense of community are recurrent themes in the L'Arche literature. As L'Arche expanded throughout the world, the need to create flexible structures enhancing this sense of community became crucial. This was met with some apprehensions as so many organizations have been stifled by heavy structures where they have become an end in itself and have led to an inevitable institutionalization of the system. Structures needed to be consistent with L'Arche's value system and purpose, while at the same time remaining flexible and responsive. They also needed to gradually evolve away from the authoritarian and leader-centered model of governance that typified the first years towards more collective decision-making processes (Saint-Macary, 1981). Although this evolution has been gradual and not without inconsistencies, the structures developed have largely reflected the elements identified by McMillan and Chavis (1986) to describe the dynamics of the experience of sense of community. They claim that a sense of community develops among group members who have a common history, put shared beliefs into practice, develop emotional closeness, and whose group membership conveys a recognition of common identity and destiny. (You will find a detailed summary of McMillan and Chavis's model in Appendix E.) The experience of communal living , however, is not uniformly positive; the "flip side" of community is the constant day-to-day struggle that automatically comes with people living together. The awareness of others is constantly present not only at the physical level but also at the interpersonal level where one may experience considerable difficulty communicating, working, or simply living with others. Some members, whether residents or assistants, may therefore seek an escape from community living when it imposes too many constraints on their personal freedom or their ability to cope. The "we-ness" of community may indeed become too confining or constricting for some, and it may explain in part why there are so few long-term assistants living in L'Arche households. The spiritual dimension. Any discussion of L'Arche needs to take the spiritual meaning of the community experience in consideration. (In this review, spirituality is understood "as the inner dimension of religiousness [of the human person]" Eck, 1993, p. 150) Much of the L'Arche literature (and particularly its charter) is embedded in religious metaphors and beliefs; Jean Vanier, as well as Henri Nouwen (1988), a Catholic priest living in one of the communities, are regarded as two of today's foremost spiritual writers, and some of their books have become among today's great classics. For most members their commitment is therefore lived within an acknowledged religious frame of reference, usually Christian in North America. This does not mean that religious belief is an obligatory part of life in L'Arche. L'Arche is founded on a liberal ecumenical ideology, and it welcomes members of various denominations and religions (or with no or little religious background) (Vanier, 1989). Some would not lay claim to any particular beliefs, though most people who stay for any length of time, because of the very quality of relationships this lifestyle entails, acknowledge a deepening of the spiritual dimension of their lives. "The emphasis is, however, on creation of communities, not conversion of souls, and this emphasis seems to attract people to L'Arche" (Harris, 1987, p. 323). Life in L'Arche is often described as a journey towards experiencing wholeness and interconnectedness, and as discovering that the individual, communal and spiritual dimensions of human life are intimately interwoven and essentially interdependent (J. Vanier, 1988). The recognition of the spirituality of the people with developmental disabilities is central to the philosophy of L'Arche. It is rooted in the belief that they are complete human beings who, even as adults, have maintained some of the characteristics of youth. They can be spontaneous, simple and trusting, and these qualities may lead them, and those who live with them, to a profound spirituality (Phillipe, 1988). Their disabilities are "not so much a problem to be handled with sensitivity, but a wound, even a grace, to be lived and shared with people together" (Standley, 1983, p. 189). Jean Vanier's understanding of the human person is central to an understanding of spirituality in L'Arche. Downey (1982) identifies six aspects to Vanier's conceptualization of the human person. It is first inclusive of a wide variety of people, regardless of their race, religion, status, intellectual or social abilities, and is especially sensitive to the person with developmental disabilities whom he sees as perhaps the most oppressed and defenseless of all people. Second, it posits the primacy of the spiritual dimension of the person, particularly in times of distress and suffering. Third, it refers to the "heart" as the foundation of the person and as a faculty to grasp and intuit the spiritual in our very being, apart from thoughts, concepts or images, and to which the person with a developmental disability is often uniquely open. The fourth aspect is his conviction that human beings need a personal and human kind of togetherness to give meaning and purpose to their lives, hence his concern for a more humanizing collective life style. Fifth, is the importance he assigns to the affective dimension of the human person and his yearning for human relationships, and finally, the last aspect is his perception of the person as mystery, which for Vanier, as a Catholic thinker, refers to the Christocentric nature of the human person. As a spiritually based community the members will make decisions on certain issues or appoint leaders through a process of "discernment" (a form of prayerful attentiveness and group attunement) and discussion meetings. Members frequently talk about being "called" or "led" to a specific course of action. Community discernment is an important factor contributing to cohesiveness and commitment to the group. It "is essentially a way of enabling people in a group to come to a common decision where each one has internalized the decision and made it their own" (J. Vanier, 1989, p. 292). Ecumenism in L'Arche From early in its history, L'Arche has welcomed persons with developmental disabilities and assistants who belonged to various faith traditions and has encouraged them to be rooted in their specific religious orientations. While about half of the communities are predominantly Catholic, the other half are either inter-denominational (particularly in North America and some European countries) or inter-religious (mainly in India, Africa, and the Middle East) (Egan, 1989). The inter-religious or inter-denominational character of many communities has led these communities to the gradual emergence of a new tradition in L'Arche where priority has been given to the creation of a non-dogmatic, ecumenical community over the older confessional bonds, and where members have been encouraged to seek a deeper understanding of others' beliefs and traditions. The practical implications of living this orientation has been a source of dialogue and learning, but also of tension and division at times as marked differences can exist in ecumenical attitudes regarding such matters as intercommunion and rituals (T. Vanier, 1989). As mentioned earlier, the aimof L'Arche is, however, to build community with disabled people, not to profess a particular faith or to promote an ecumenical project. In that respect, the presence of the disabled individuals at the "core" of the communities has been instrumental in fostering unity among various groups, including Christians. "However deeply rooted are the historical divisions that separate Christians the thirst for communion in the hearts of handicapped people is deeper. They bring to us the conviction that what binds us together as Christians is deeper than what divides us" (O'Donnel, 1990, p. 5). The tradition of evening prayers developed in L'Arche has been of particular importance in contributing to greater harmony, mutual respect, and understanding between members of different faiths. Therese Vanier (1989) describes it as follows: This feature of life in our communities corresponds to a simple and profound human need, a need to stop and reflect, integrate what has happened in the day, express concerns and fears and thanks for the past, the present and what is to come. It is a time of worship, of acknowledging our dependence on God and on each other. It draws the dailyness of our lives into the transcendent. It is expressed most obviously by people with a handicap, the directness and relevance of whose prayers draws assistants into a time of quiet, reflection, silence, singing. ..It is a time where it seems that usually no one is threatened by any particular church tradition, (p. 5) The Communal Ethos of L'Arche According to Jean Vanier (1989), the ethos of L'Arche differs greatly from the worldview of the broader culture and its social and moral values are a direct challenge to the values held in the larger social order. Everything in our post-modern era is telling us to be competent, attractive, influential. As Nouwen (1981) states so eloquently: Our whole way of living is structured around climbing the ladder of success and making it to the top. Our very sense of vitality is dependent upon being part of the upward pull and upon the joy provided by the rewards given on the way up (p. 13). Choosing to establish a whole way of life around the values of care, material simplicity, and interdependency outlined in this review of the L'Arche literature is in direct opposition with the dominant values of competition, acquisition of wealth, and consumerism, as well as with the North American belief in "rugged individualism" (or as Lasch (1978) may today add "narcissistic and acquisitive individualism"). Speaking of North Americans, Alexis de Tocqueville (cited in Bellah et al., 1986) wrote more than 150 years ago: "Such folks owe no [one] anything and hardly expect anything from anybody. They form the habit of thinking of themselves in isolation and imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands" (p. 37). The principles of "normalization" that have led to the deinstitutionalization of hundred of thousands of people with disabilities over the last two decades often reflect this belief in autonomy and self-determination. As with many bureaucratic reforms and programs, those who design these new policies have a tendency to regard people with disabilities as socially and culturally decontextualised subjects and tend to overlook their vital needs for genuine associational ties (Schwartz, 1992). The same could be said of many of our schools of therapy which usually reflect the individualistic ethos of American democracy (Sue & Sue, 1990); a tradition that, according to Taylor (1994), does not give enough recognition to the "dialogical" (or communal) character of human life. Although it is true that the process of human development is one of becoming fully individual (Jung, 1933), we are fundamentally social creatures who need one another not only for sustenance or company but also for meaning and guidance in our lives (Adler, 1927). Hence the importance of a communal vision in L'Arche, of a shared confidence in the possibilities of social and personal change through fellowships where individuals are learning new ways to face conflicts, cooperate and build relationships, and to live in solidarity with the most vulnerable ones of our society (J. Vanier, 1989). No less essential is the emphasis put on the inner resources required to successfully live in a caring community: the ability to nurture, to open oneself up to emotionally demanding individuals, to develop a deeper awareness of oneself and each other, to learn to understand, accept, and forgive one another, and the capacity to develop an integrated sense of oneself, and to stay committed to one's communal relationships. Communities such as L'Arche, Nouwen (1987) claims, [call] for a movement from an issue-oriented life to a person-oriented life... L'Arche is there to remind us that the intimate personal relationships developed over months and years of faithfulness allow us to be in the world without being destroyed by its countless urgencies and emergencies... Issues are not going to save us, people do. (p. 32) These communal values are part of the transcendent frame of reference that L'Arche has constructed (what in the movement is referred to as "the vision of L'Arche"), and which gives meaning to the aspirations of its members and to the difficulties of its lifestyle. It is part of what Becker (1973) calls a creative illusion or heroic myth, that is, a "fictional" dimension that one adds to one's own experience of the world in order to bring coherence and order to it. The "myth" of L'Arche informs the life of its movement and helps its members make sense of their own existence. It brings them security by helping them to face up to the reality of community more fully. In this respect, it is in sharp contrast with a modern world that lacks a sense of common vision. May (1991) attributes many of our present day problems to "the lack of myths which will give us as individuals the inner security we need in order to live adequately in our day" (p.9). Rohr (1991) goes further stating: I am convinced that much, if not most, of the modern neurosis is a direct result of a lack of a common, shared story under which our individual stories are written. As a result, our tiny lives lack a transcendent referent, a larger significance, a universal and shared meaning, (p. 15) May (1991) identifies four ways in which myths provide meaning (and which are particularly relevant to this discussion), a) they contribute to our sense of personal identity, b) they make possible our sense of community, c) they support our moral values, and d) they help us deal with the mystery of creation. The vision of L'Arche and its communal ethos have been strongly inspired by Jean Vanier who has embodied the characteristics of a man of profound compassion, courage, and humility. To a certain extent, Vanier's role in L'Arche can be likened to the notion of hero in mythology as he symbolizes the highest aims of the movement. For our heroes, as May (1991) suggests, carry our aspirations, our ideals, our hopes, our beliefs... In the profound sense the hero is created by us as we identify with the deeds he or she performs. The hero is thus born collectively as our own myth. This is what makes myth so important: it reflects our own sense of identity, our combined emotions, our myth. (p. 58) In this project, I investigated how each research participant constructed his or her experience of L'Arche and within this subjectivity perceived L'Arche both as a personal project and as an external or given reality. The data analysis allowed me to assess the extent to which the philosophy of L'Arche and its particular vision have influenced each participant's given set of world views. Phases in Community Life at L'Arche Small group theoreticians (e.g. Borgen, Pollard, Amundson & Westwood, 1989) have posited various developmental sequences to explicate the stages of adaptation and growth that members undergo in group settings. In a similar manner, Peck (1987) and Shafer and Anundsen (1993) have each proposed phase models of community development. Shafer and Anundsen's model, in particular, derives from their observations on intentional residential communities. They posit five phases: 1) excitement: getting high on possibilities; 2) autonomy: jockeying for power; 3) stability: settling into roles and structures; 4) synergy: allowing self and group to mutually unfold; and 5) transformation: expanding, segmenting, or disbanding. The authors chose the term " phase" rather than "stage" to convey the circular nature of community development. This is in contrast to most small group models, which take a linear approach to group development. To my knowledge, no empirical research has been conducted to validate those phase models. In a different field of research, cross-cultural psychology, Adler (1975), in his efforts to understand the dynamics of the cross-cultural experience, presented a model that may partly apply to the communal living experience in that a long-term involvement in an intentional community involves significant cultural and psychological changes (Zablocki, 1980b). Furthermore, we may note that for a North American living abroad, a cross-cultural experience will often involve, as for newcomers to L'Arche, an adaptation to a foreign culture where community and social consensus are foremost and where the individual is primarily defined as a social being rather than as a psychological being. Adler noted that individuals going through significant changes experience something akin to a culture shock. He further contended that such "transitional experience" (p. 13) can be experienced in one's own culture. He delineated five phases which are, (a) contact, (b) disintegration, (c) reintegration, (d) autonomy, and (e) independence. A clear description of each phase in terms of its perception, emotional ranges, behaviors, and interpretations can be found in Appendix G. Most new assistants living in L'Arche seem to undergo a common cycle of experiences which could be described in the first three phases as a culture shock, and requiring cultural adaptation (de Miribel, 1981). The last two phases apply to assistants who have lived longer in L'Arche. This cycle of experiences appears to bear interesting similarities with Adler (1975) and Shafer and Anundsen's (1993) phase models. In this section, I will mainly draw from the writings of de Miribel (1981), Dunne (1986), and J. Vanier (1989) to describe this cycle. The first phase has often been referred as the "honeymoon period", and has many of the characteristics of the contact phase of Adler (1975) and the excitement phase of Shafer and Anundsen (1993). The assistants are enchanted by the warm sense of togetherness they discover in L'Arche. They are fascinated by their new environment and tend to see only positive values to the communal lifestyle (J. Vanier, 1989). This period which usually lasts a few months is frequently succeeded by a second phase that can be very difficult. As de Miribel (1981) describes so accurately: You step into a world whose values are the opposite of those current in the society where you have been living. You move from a world of efficiency and productivity into a world where the essential values are people's relations and personal presence one to another. From a world where everything is to be had here and now, you enter a world where the essential element is time: the time required to create personal ties, to win each other's trust to grow. Leaving a society based on individualism and personal success, often won at other people's cost, you discover a community where no one does anything alone. And coming from a world whose essential motor and important yardstick is money, you find yourself in a world where what is essential can only be given free, and where money is no more than a means in the service of the community. That other world expects you to be big and strong, and to hide any weaknesses as something to be ashamed of, whereas here each person's weaknesses are brought to light and shared, and in this sharing is the foundation of unity, (pp. 76-77) This phase which requires " a total reorientation is a painful experience" (de Miribel, 1981, p. 77). These difficulties can be compounded by the fact that many new assistants come from another region or country, may speak English as a second language, are often young and lack some maturity, by the disapproval of their parents and family, and a lost of interest in old friends (de Miribel, 1981). (It is worth noting that five of the six commitment-mechanisms identified by Kanter (1972) are included (or at least suggested) in de Miribel's quotation: that is, mortification, transcendence, communion, sacrifice, and investment.) During the second and third phases the assistants will repeatedly be confronted to their own limitations. The demands of community become at times unbearable, and cause a deep tiredness; residents may reject or dislike some assistants, tension between assistants may increase, or assistants may be continually changing. This disillusionment with self and/or community can give rise to anger and a sense of entrapment. To survive, new assistants must reconcile themselves to a realistic sense of what it is they are involved in, accepting the community's shortcomings as well as their own. (Dunne, 1986, p.47) These difficulties at L'Arche are compounded with a difficult aspect of adapting to any form of communal living: "the collective behaviour experience and the resocialization process, both of which are essential to the model, [and which] put individuals in touch with intense and often long-buried primal feelings, often with disastrous results" (Zablocki, 1980b, p. 325). The second and third phases contain both the sense of disorientation and frustration of the disintegration and reintegration phases of Adler's (1975) model and the disillusionment of the autonomy phase of Shaffer and Anundsen (1993). The L'Arche literature, for example, J. Vanier (1992), frequently refers to the inevitable tensions and disappointment that punctuate community life and views these personal and collective times of trial as essential steps towards growth and maturity. As Dunne (1986) states: The L'Arche experience suggests that the capacity to commit oneself to others and to celebrate that life in common is dependent on the willingness to acknowledge and somehow transform the darker side of human nature, individual and collective, through a humanizing response that deepens community through the very difficulty that could otherwise be its destruction, (p. 53) The fourth phase is described as a passage to maturity, to commitment. Through this phase takes place a transition from "the community for myself" to "myself for the community" (J. Vanier, 1989, p. 55). The assistants feel a deep sense of commitment to those with whom they live which help them put down roots in the community. [Assistants ] may spend several heart-searching years until the day comes when they take the step of accepting that L'Arche shall be the community where they are being called to live. For some, the path to this acceptance is a long one as though they were resisting themselves, holding off from this sense of commitment they can feel taking root in their heart, (de Miribel, 1981, p. 82) This phase bears interesting similarities with the autonomy phase of Adler's (1975) model and autonomy and synergy phases of Shaffer and Anundsen's (1993). Through it, assistants develop greater assurance in themselves and deepen their faiths in the vision of the movement. The final phase which is usually reached after years in L'Arche, is called "the covenant" (L'Arche International, 1989). It is a deepening of one's commitment to the spirituality of L'Arche, and particularly to people with developmental disabilities. During a specific retreat, the assistants "announce their covenant", which is regarded as a formal expression of commitment to the ideals of L'Arche and recognizes their intention to live their lives in relationship with the "poor", that is those who are oppressed and vulnerable in this world. It is not a promise to live in a community household indefinitely, but rather a recognition of the spiritual bond that they have developed during their years of living with people with disabilities. This phase is very much one of transformation as Shaffer and Anundsen (1993) describe their fifth phase, in that it validates a new identity and symbolizes a new openness to the world. The Camphil l Communities It is worth mentioning that there is another worldwide network of intentional communities in the field of mental retardation, the Camphill villages, which has existed for over 50 years (Pietzner, 1986, 1990). This movement has been partly inspired by the work of the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Schools and Antroposophy. Today there are more than 80 communities in over 18 countries. In North America, there are seven Camphill communities; five in the United States and two in Canada (Smart, 1993). Unlike L'Arche communities, which are mainly located in urban areas and integrated in the broader community, most Camphill communities are small self-sufficient agricultural villages, comprised of farms, craft shops, and occasionally of a school and stores. The largest Camphill village in the United States, for example, has over 200 people on 600 acres of land. Although this movement differs in a number of ways from L'Arche, it also bears important similarities to it. Particularly notable for our purpose is the fact that these communities do not see themselves as rehabilitative perse , but rather as a way of life that all human communities should strive for. Impressed by the richness of the lives of people with disabilities in the Camphill villages, Schwartz (1992), a respected author in the field of mental retardation, identified a number of factors contributing to the safety and well-being of the residents in this environment. These factors appear identical to those that characterize daily life in L'Arche ( e.g. people with disabilities as having equal human value, philosophy of shared living, importance of personal growth), and are congruent with the philosophy and values outlined in this section. To my knowledge, there has been no systematic research done on those communities, at least in the English and French languages. Research on L'Arche Formal research on the L'Arche movement has been very limited. I am aware of only two dissertations (Sumarah, 1983/1985; Webb-Mitchell, 1988/1989), and one study from France (de la Selle & Maurice, 1986). Sumarah (1983/1985) examined the therapeutic dimensions of L'Arche's way of life. It took the form of an eight month ethnographic inquiry through the participant observation and interviewing methods of investigation. Sumarah (1983/1985; 1988) provided a descriptive account of the community's way of life from a participant observer's perspective, and autobiographical accounts of a resident (Sumarah, 1983/1985; 1987a) and of an assistant's experience in L'Arche. The author identified three general themes from these accounts which pointed to significant therapeutic components of this way of life. These themes were: (a) a personal sense of agency, (b) a psychological sense of community, and (c) a personal and social sense of religion. The author mentioned that the conceptualization of these themes originated primarily from the work of the philosopher John MacMurray. While this study provided interesting insights into the understanding of L'Arche and identified relevant themes, the results can only be tentative because of its limited sample and because the author provided limited information on the strategies of data analysis. This study primarily used the situation of L'Arche for illustrating a certain theory about the nature of the human person. Webb-Mitchell (1988/1989) conducted an ethnographic study of an English community over a nine month period. The purpose of this study was to explore, understand and articulate the nature of community, the role of friendship, trust, ritual, and language in this specific setting. The conclusion of the study indicated that this community operated somewhat like a "mini-institution" in that the assistants fulfilled traditional role of providing care and exercising authority, and residents depended on assistants for directions and leadership. The author stressed that this specific community needed to improve communication with professionals and learn to play a facilitative role rather than a controlling one. The effort to reduce the differences in status and hierarchy between the residents and the assistants was more of an ideal than an actual description of how this community operated. De La Selle and Maurice (1986) conducted an evaluation research in France to determine the degree to which residents of L'Arche benefited or not from their communal experience. Two key concepts in this study were "enracinement" and "deracinement", two French words that do not have adequate equivalent in English, and which roughly mean "rootedness" and "uprootedness". The authors were particularly interested in assessing the role that these two constructs played in the personal development of the residents. They combined qualitative and quantitative methods to collect data on 244 residents of L'Arche Trosly-Breuil (the very first community of L'Arche which has nearly 300 members). They outlined a statistical profile of those who left the community (83) and those who have stayed (161), and presented six short case studies to illustrate the role that their respective involvement has had in their lives. Various reasons led people to leave, including intensity of emotional and relational life of community, difficulty of working and living in the same organization, medical and psychiatric problems, and desire for greater autonomy. Members stayed for a variety of reasons as well, namely, sense of belonging, inclusion in a larger network of human relations, personal growth, and sense of connection to other communities. In their conclusion, the authors stressed the importance of providing a safe and well-structured environment that allows the residents to progress toward more adaptive skills and to a greater degree of integration within the mainstream of society. In spite of the length and importance of this study (250 pages), I found it somewhat disappointing. The study does not follow the sequence of scientific inquiry typical of evaluation research in North America. The language is also notably vague, often philosophical or anecdotal, and results and potential benefits are not stated clearly. It is unclear whether this lack of coherence must be attributed to cultural differences in conducting research or to a lack of rigor on the part of the researchers. Summary This chapter has reviewed a body of literature on intentional communities and the communities of L'Arche, most of it published between 1970 and 1994. Some of the works cited were specifically concerned with intentional communities (e.g., Kanter, 1970, 1972, 1973). In these studies, the authors gave special attention to different types of communal living groups and identified the social processes employed to sustain commitment among their members. Most of the materials reviewed pertained to the L'Arche movement (e.g., Dunne, 1986; J. Vanier, 1989). This literature provided information about the views of their authors on the history, ideology, and lifestyle of the movement. Although this literature often revealed a tendency to reflect different versions of the official philosophy of L'Arche (and often painted in overly positive and idealist terms), it did afford many useful insights about what it means to live at L'Arche. Most of the works cited were written by members of a community of L'Arche and were often based on their experiences and those of others living at L'Arche. This body of work therefore came at times close to the subject matter of the present study, which is an examination of the experiences of assistants as to what it means to live at L'Arche. This main theme, however, remains implicit rather than clearly investigated in the literature. The present research attempted to add to this body of information by more systematically interviewing and eliciting from a number of assistants their descriptions of their personal experience. As noted earlier, there has been little research done on L'Arche. In addition, the three studies that were reviewed have primarily viewed L'Arche as an alternative residential care service to the disabled that warranted study as an innovative approach. Consequently, the focus was either on the philosophy, or on the disabled members and their relationships with other members, or community practices that were contributing to the well-being of the residents. In these three studies, the authors provided limited information about the shifting clientele of assistants at L'Arche - their social characteristics, their motives, their hopes and expectations, their sense of the community in which they lived, the reasons for their personal involvement, or the extent to which that involvement gave meaning and purpose to their lives and affected their self-understanding. Further studies will be needed to identify the conditions under which members join and live, and describe the experience of community as lived by the assistants. The aim of the present inquiry was precisely to examine the meaning of this experience. The sparseness of literature on intentional communities, and especially on the L'Arche movement, underscores the potential usefulness of the present research. Such information could be helpful to a variety of people who are living or working at L'Arche or in other communal cooperative housing and working arrangements. C H A P T E R T H R E E Methodology The purpose of the present research was to investigate the subjective experience of participants living in L'Arche and understand the underlying patterns of meaning that characterize this experience. While it is possible to study some aspects of the experience of community in L'Arche from an experimental or survey research perspective, the subjective, intrapersonal, and interpersonal processes that define it are not easily observable and to be fully explored require a qualitative approach. This chapter presents an overview of the qualitative methodology used in this study. It first presents the phenomenological research design and the research questions. It then describes the data collection and procedures and presents the strategies used to increase its reliability and validity. It continues with a description of Hycner's (1985) method of phenomenological analysis. It then discusses the selection of the participants and includes condensed demographic information about the research participants. It continues with an introduction to the community of L'Arche Shiloah, its residents, assistants, and regulations. Finally, this chapter concludes with a definition of terms used in L'Arche and in the present study. Overview of Research Method The phenomenological method of research in psychology was employed in this study. In this qualitative research perspective, researchers systematically examine experiental phenomena as they are lived concretely and personally by the participants. Its field of concern is "the subjective, interior landscape (including of course the experience of others) that one lives in and constructs in a totally unique fashion" (Margulies, 1989, p. 148). This method is therefore mainly concerned with the personalized and meaningful dimension of experiences and human behaviour, and by their structures and essential constituents (Giorgi, 1975). It requires, at first, a systematic and meticulous description of what is perceived in the lived experience, and, secondly, an identification and elucidation of the salient themes or recurrent patterns of the phenomenon. This project also used the critical incident technique as a supplemental procedure for the study of incidents having special significance to the research participants. Although this method has been mostly used to obtain factual reports with respect to specific activity and work requirements, it has also proven to be very flexible and to have many types of applications, including the study of individual subjective experience (Flanagan, 1954). In this project, this technique facilitated the collection of specific and detailed descriptions of the participants' experience of L'Arche. Reports of specific factual incidents representative of what has been particularly positive or difficult for the participants provided a sound and concrete basis for understanding the complexity of the phenomenon investigated. Formulation of the Research Questions In this study I examined the way in which members of L'Arche "construct" their experience of community living. The central question that the current research attempted to answer could be formulated either as "What is the experience of living at L'Arche?" or "How do assistants experience, describe, and understand their experience of living and working at L'Arche?" The essential criterion for this method was that it leads to a better understanding of the meaning of community as lived at L'Arche. In addition to this central question, a number of questions have emerged as I have reflected on my own experience of community and from the discussion of this topic in the literature review. These questions touch upon the nature of relationships between assistants and residents ("How do the participants perceive people with developmental disabilities?"; "How do they describe their relationships with them?"), commitment practices ("How do they sustain their commitment to this way of life?"), and development and learning taking place in a communal setting ("What kinds of learning, developments or changes in behaviour result from this experience?"). In spite of their importance, these questions are, however, only peripheral to the phenomenological approach -that is the use of subjective and first-person experience as a source of knowledge ~ and were only partly answered in this study. However, these questions guided my reflections and facilitated my understanding of some of the common patterns of meaning that ran through the narratives of the research participants. Data Collection and Procedures In-depth interviewing. Since the intent of the study is to examine subjective experience, in-depth interviewing was used as a method of data collection. My intention was to interview a range of assistants of different ages and backgrounds. Each of the research participants was interviewed twice and the interviews were audio-taped and transcribed (as narratives). During the first interview, my objective was to elicit as much information as possible about the person's experience of community at L'Arche. In the follow-up interview, the participant was asked to respond to my summary of the preceding interview, and whether they would like to make changes to it. The interviews were open-ended and unstructured, requiring enough time to explore the topic in depth. My main goal in the interviews was to help the research participants provide a detailed account of their personal story and move toward nontheoretical descriptions that reflect the experience. Kvale (1983) has outlined various aspects of the interview-situation which further explained why this is the method of choice in phenomenological research. The focus of the interview is on the life-world (or subjective experience) of the research participant and is theme-oriented not person-oriented. It seeks to describe the meaning, the attributes and characteristics of central themes of the experience being investigated. It aims at obtaining a qualitative and nuanced descriptions of the phenomenon that are precise and stringent in meaning and interpretation. It seeks to obtain nontheoretical, specific, and extensive descriptions that accurately reflect the experience. The interviewer strives to remain as open and "presuppositionless" as possible and does not reduce the experience to ready-made categories. It is the task of the interviewer to clarify ambiguities and contradictions. Finally, the descriptions and meanings of the themes may become richer and clearer the later portions of the interview. First interview. After orienting each participant to the study and assuring him or her that all information shared in the interviews including the fact that he or she is participating as a research participant will be held in strict confidence, I used the following sample introduction to begin the interview: I am doing a study to understand the meaning of community life in L'Arche. I am interested in what your experience has been as an assistant in L'Arche. I would appreciate it if you would describe your experience in as much detail as possible, as if you were telling me a story; that is, how it began, what occurred in the midst of it, and how it ended (if it has). I would like you to feel that you can be frank with me. I will carefully listen to your story and may be asking you some questions of what it has been like for you to be in L'Arche but before I do, I would like to hear about your experience in L'Arche - how you feel and think about life here. Can you tell me how you got involved in L'Arche and what were your initial impressions. The assistant was then encouraged to provide a detailed account of his or her personal story. Following this account, the assistant was asked to report two critical incidents, one that stands out as positive and one that illustrates what has been challenging and difficult for him or her in L'Arche. I used the following sample to introduce the critical incident questions: 1. Now that you have told me about your experience, can you describe the most critical incident that is indicative of the positive experience you've had of L'Arche. 2. Could you now describe to me the most critical incident that illustrates what has been particularly difficult for you. My primary purpose was to elicit experiental (rather than conceptual) information and to facilitate the uninterrupted flow of the story with active listening, empathic attunement, evocative responding, and probes. In a fashion similar to the process-experiential approach to counselling, I attempted to enter my research participant's frame of reference, try to see L'Arche from his or her subjective perspective, listen from the inside as if I was the research participant, and focus "on the moment-by-moment shifts in [his or her] experiencing and manner of processing" (Greenberg, Rice & Elliott, 1993, p. 14). The questions asked of each participant were a natural outgrowth of the content of the interview and consisted of my requests for clarification and/or the discussion of life experiences related to the topic of community at L'Arche. When the research participants began to philosophize about their particular experiences or about L'Arche in general, I gently asked them to return to their personal experience and to be as deeply immersed as possible while carrying out the narration of their journey in L'Arche. In many ways, this inquiry was an account in the oral tradition of people telling their own stories. If questions were asked, it was done in order to bring out unexpressed elements of the experience rather than in an attempt to standardize the narrative accounts. Second interview. The follow-up interview was arranged within a month of the first interview. During this interview, I read the summary of the first interview, ask them to reflect upon the meaning of their experience, and assess whether the descriptions fit their experience. The research participants were also invited to make corrections or additions as they saw fit. The following questions were asked as part of the follow-up interview (adapted from Sankey, 1993, p. 73): 1. Since we have last met you have had a chance to think about what we spoke and I was wondering if you had any other thoughts or feelings that you would like to add to your story? 2. (As I read the summary of the first interview) Do you feel that this summary captures your experience of living and working at L'Arche and the influence it has had in your life? 3. Is there anything in this summary that you feel is inaccurate; anything that you would like to take out or change? Is there anything that you don't understand? Overview of the Interviews. Three participants chose to be interviewed at their homes. One selected her own bedroom as the location of the interview; two were interviewed in common areas such as a living or dining room (though with no other housemates present). The three other participants elected to be interviewed at my home to ensure greater confidentiality. Each participant was interviewed twice. The first interviews varied in length from about an hour to an hour in a half (not including the time spent on answering questions from the participants). The second interviews were shorter, lasting from thirty minutes to an hour. Each first interview yielded a transcription which ranged from eighteen to twenty-three single-spaced pages. Once the narratives were divided into meaning units and themes, another twenty pages were added; condensed summary added another six to eight pages, yielding an average of forty-seven pages of data and analysis per participant. Although I expected the transcription and analysis to be lengthy, I was surprised by the amount of work involved. The range of people's speaking and thinking styles and personal stories were broad, and I felt privileged to hear and reflect on those very personal accounts. Reliability and Validity Validity has traditionally referred to the degree to which an instrument measures what it is designed to measure, and reliability to the consistency of test measurement. Lincoln and Guba (1985) contrasted those definitions to four alternative standards termed the trustworthiness criteria, which they believe to be more appropriate to assess the adequacy of both qualitative and quantitative studies. The criteria of the qualitative approach are credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. Credibility refers to an accurate description or interpretation of the phenomenon or experience investigated. Transferability is the degree to which the descriptive data is adequately presented so that other researchers may use the study to extend and compare the findings to other studies. Dependability implies that the researcher attempts to account for change in the phenomenon studied and in the design. Finally, confirmability pertains to the objectivity of the data. The following strategies were used throughout the study to increase the trustworthiness of the interview-method. First, my substantial involvement in the community in the past facilitated establishing rapport in the interviews and built the trust necessary to uncover recurrent patterns and facilitate understanding of the community's culture. It also lessened the potential threat of social desirability. To help ensure that my involvement did not interfere with my understanding of the data, however, it was important for me to be aware of and to reflect on the influence that my past experience may have on the way I lead the interviews and on how I interpret the data. Following Husserl's (cited in Bachelor & Joshi, 1986) process of "bracketing", I attempted to temporarily suspend any consideration and preconception regarding the facts presented, so as to let the research participants describe their experience of L'Arche as it essentially presents itself to them. I needed to suspend what I knew so that I could discover what I did not see before. Merleau-Ponty (cited in Margulies, 1989) described this process as follow: " This reduction is not the decision to suppress but to place in suspense, or out of action, all the spontaneous affirmations in which we live [regarding the phenomenon investigated], not to deny them but rather to understand them and to make them explicit" (p. 9). In Appendix F I outline biases or presuppositions that I had about the experience of living at L'Arche and that I needed to put in abeyance while conducting the inquiry. Review of interviews and transcript analysis by my thesis advisor also contributed to greater rigour in this area. Secondly, it was possible to enhance credibility within the interviewing process itself. Interviews allowed me to make sure the participants correctly understood what was asked, to follow up incomplete answers, to probe and search for depth of response. They also revealed nonverbal responses which facilitated data analysis. Finally, my investigative and counselling skills, which have been developed through review of selected literature on the research topic, methodology courses, and practical experience, also contributed to the credibility of the study. Dense background information about the participants and formal check with participants to review summary of the previous interviews were useful in identifying whether data were accurate and increased the credibility and the transferability of the study. The precise description of the data collection strategies and analysis clearly enhanced the dependability and confirmability of the project as well as the supervision of the research proposal and implementation by an experienced researcher (Dr. R. Young). (Please note that direct quotations from the interviews are used extensively in reporting the results. Ellipses are occasionally used to indicate that there was either a pause in the conversation or that a few words or sentences were omitted when the meaning of a particular segment could be understood without them. Three dots indicate a pause and four dots indicate an omission) Analys is and Interpretation of Narratives In the phenomenological analysis of research data the researcher starts with one description of the experience investigated (a transcription or narrative), and analyses each additional narrative, one by one, till he or she formulates a description that conveys the essential constituents of the experience (van Kaam, 1969). Following the first interview, analysis proceeded in the fashion outlined by Hycner (1985). (I chose to follow Hycner's procedures rather the most often used procedures of Colaizzi (1978) and Giorgi (1975) because I found them easier to understand and much more clearly delineated and explicated.) It includes the following steps: 1. / listen to the tape, transcribe it (including significant non-verbal and para-linguistic communication). (The data of the first interview contains the narrative account and the critical incident technique report.) 2. / " bracket" my presuppositions in order to approach the data with as much openness as possible (see Appendix F for a list of these presuppositions). 3. / listen to the interview several times and read and reread the transcription to get a sense of the whole context of the interview. 4. / elicit the discrete units of general meanings. (Hycner (1985) defines these units "as those words, phrases, non-verbal or para-linguistic communications which express a unique and coherent meaning (irrespective of the research question) clearly differentiated from that which precedes and follows" (p. 283). At this early stage of the analysis, the meaning of the segments are captured as much as possible in the words of the research participants themselves. 5. / delineate units of general meaning relevant to the research question. (In this study the research question addressed to these units of meaning was: "Is this an essential constituent of the experience of L'Arche as experienced by this participant?" This is a step whereby I looked for statements in the text that were particularly revealing of the experience.) 6. A member of the research committee verifies the units of relevant meaning and validate, modify, or invalidate these units. 7. I eliminate these units of relevant meaning which are clearly redundant. 8. / determine whether the units of relevant meaning naturally cluster together. I obtain these clusters by gathering statements that are conceptually similar. 9. / determine if there are themes which express the essence of the clusters of meaning. Themes are what researchers often call the core meanings or the fundamental constituents of the phenomenon. 10. / write up a summary for each individual interview incorporating the themes that are representative of the experience and send an abbreviated summary to the participant. 11. / return to the participant, read the written summary and themes, and ask him or her to comment on the presence or absence of these themes in his or her experience. I also invite the participant to communicate further information on issues that may not have been covered in the first interview and that he or she may wish to address. 12. / analyze the second interview following the same procedures, and themes and summary are modified if necessary. 13. / identify themes that are common to all or most of the participants (also described as metathemes by some phenomenologists (cf. Tesh, 1987)). Verification by the research committee is again sought at this stage of the analysis. 14. / place these themes within the context from which they have emerged. 15. / write a condensed summary of the experience of L'Arche (or narrative ) as experienced by the research participants, (pp. 279-294). Selection of Research Participants The people in this study were selected from the community of L'Arche in Burnaby. (Letter of contact to the community, letter of contact to the participants and consent form can be found in Appendices A, B, and C.) The size of the sample was determined by the depth and richness of the data collected. I ended data collection when it became apparent that additional research participants contributed little or no new information or when the final description of the phenomenon studied appeared to be a valid one. Based on the sample size of most theses, I expected to interview between six and eight assistants. The selection of assistants as research participants was crucial in providing rich descriptions of the experience investigated and in enhancing the value of the data collection method. The following requirements outlined by van Kaam (1969) guided me in the selection of research participants. They had: (a) the ability to express themselves linguistically with relative ease, (b) the ability to sense and to express inner feelings and emotions without shame and inhibition, (c) the ability to sense and express the organic experiences that accompany these feelings, (d) the experience of the situation under investigation at a relatively recent date, (e) a spontaneous interest in their experience. From among the volunteers, participants were selected so as to ensure the inclusion of persons with the following four characteristics: 1. the participants were able to express themselves fluently in English; 2. they had been members of L'Arche for at least two years; 3. they had between 20 and 65 years of age; 4. the ratio between female and male participants was two to one to reflect proportion of male and female assistants in the community. Apart from the fact that thesis research cannot cover all of the diversity of lifestyles in L'Arche, I chose to concentrate my inquiry on the assistants rather than on the residents (or on a combination of both populations) for several reasons: 1. Assistants have chosen to come to L'Arche and usually have a vastly more attractive range of outside possibilities open when they want to leave than the residents. For instance, marriage or an intimate relationship is a remote possibility for most of the people with a disability and the only alternative to L'Arche may be a large institution or a group home. These differences are not without influencing their perception of community. 2. As noted earlier, previous studies have mainly focused on the residents and on L'Arche as an innovative alternative to residential care. For instance, in both dissertations, the researchers were particularly sensitive to giving voice to the disabled members, and, when needed, to be their advocate by commenting on beliefs and practices prevalent in the community which limited their autonomy and sense of agency. 3. My intention to look at the experience of L'Arche from the assistants' viewpoint is twofold. First, very few of us have lived in a communal setting and very little is known about the impact it has on its members and the social skills necessary to live in it. Secondly, interactional competence (the ability to take the role of others), emotional sensitivity, and general linguistic and symbolic mental abilities are vital to integrate and communicate insights about one's interpersonal and inner psychological experience. The Research Participants. The participants in this study were four women and two men, all of whom were white. They all spoke English, although as a second language for some of them. The age range was approximately 25 to 60, with three of the participants in their thirties. The length of time that participants had been living and/or working at L'Arche ranged from 4 to 17 years, with a mean of 10.5 years. At the time of the interviews (winter or spring 1995) three participants lived and worked in the community, and two participants worked for the community but did not live in a household. One participant worked on a part-time basis for L'Arche and spent a month each year in a L'Arche Shiloah home. All but one of the participants had previously lived for at least a year in a household community. Also, four of the participants had lived in another L'Arche community in the past. All names of participants, and their housemates, co-workers, and friends, in this report are pseudonyms. The pseudonyms given to the research participants are Carmen, Vivian, Gabrielle, Ella, Nigel, and Lucas. Incidental details may be disguised to protect their anonymity. No vignettes will be provided in order to protect confidentiality. However, much will be learned about the participants in the following chapter. Site Selection L'Arche Shiloah. In this section I will describe L'Arche Shiloah, the community from which the research participants came. L'Arche Shiloah is located at the south end of Burnaby. It consists of a large building accommodating three residential units, three additional houses in Burnaby and one in Vancouver. The households accommodate approximately 30 residents as well as 14 live-in assistants. A similar number of assistants and part-time employees live outside the community. Its ratio of assistants and employees-to people with disabilities is therefore almost one-to-one. Residents. Residents are all adults, ambulatory, capable of basic self-care (although very limited for some), and their home is close enough to encourage contact with family, friends, and neighbourhood. Over half of the residents work at L'Arche Wood Products where they engage in assembling bookshelves and a variety of other wooden products. Many of the other residents commute to one of the surrounding shelter workshops where they engage in light manufacturing, packaging handicrafts and other vocational activities. Some residents also attend retraining programs for the disabled or work at nearby stores and industries. Older residents and more severely disabled members attend Emmaus Center, a day program located in Shiloah's main building. These residents are involved in a number of recreational, craft, and vocational activities during the day. Both L'Arche Wood Products and Emmaus Center have their own premises, work teams, and accountability structures. Assistants. In order to be admitted as an assistant, applicants must meet specific requirements regarding community behavioral and work standards and express a wish to form personal relationships with individuals in the community. The decision to accept potential members is usually up to the directing team. Recruitment takes place very spontaneously. A few years ago, however, the community had to advertise for assistants for the first time in nearly 20 years. Assistants come from different regions of the country and from many different countries. They usually have quite a wide variety of backgrounds, professions, experiences, and perspectives. Assistants work either in a house or in one of the work areas of the community. They are therefore referred to as i house assistants or work assistants. The house assistants are responsible for the care of the residents. They assist them in the activities of daily living, attend various meetings, and take part in the planning of activities for the whole community. They have one day off a week, and one week-end off each month. Work assistants may or may not live in a household community, and work either at L'Arche Wood Products, Emmaus Center, the administrative office or on building maintenance. Assistants attend different types of meetings each week. At the assistant meeting (the largest and most important meeting), everyone takes turn sharing significant events, struggles, and concerns. The community uses these meetings to work out disagreements, regenerate commitment, and create a sense of intimate involvement. Over the years, as new members joined and old ones left, a core group of assistants has remained, providing stability and continuity. It is from this group, called the long-term assistants, that I selected the research participants. L'Arche Shiloah has the largest percentage of long-term assistants among the six communities of the Northwest region. In an effort to extend itself to the outside community, Shiloah has welcomed a number of associate members in the past years as well as a continued number of friends, family members, and volunteers. They also plan monthly social events that are chiefly attended by disabled members from other residential services. Regulations. L'Arche Shiloah is funded, licensed, and certified as a residential service for the developmentally disabled by the provincial government. It is a complex system involving several levels of accountability, e.g., government funding source, religious institutions, board of directors, and the family of those who live there. In contrast to Shiloah's beginning in the early 1970s, human service organizations are now highly regulated and must meet specific health, safety, work and training requirements. While the Shiloah community abides by the provincial regulations, its approach to human services is still largely inspired by its philosophy. It has also adopted certain practices that enable the community to review and reflect on its efforts (e.g., annual assessment of disabled members). At times, Shiloah has struggled against pressures to become more bureaucratic and "professional". For instance, each household is now subject to a thorough annual review by the Ministry of Housing and Social Services, and provincial regulations may soon oblige assistants to be trained and licensed. In addition, the governmental authorities have set a provincial mean for salaries a few years ago. This has allowed assistants a higher degree of flexibility with regard to their financial planning but is presenting a challenge to an organization traditionally committed to material simplicity and interdependence. Income levels also differ according to length of service. Higher and discrepant wages reflect the values of the larger economic system and may eventually introduce a stronger individualistic and hierarchical note into the social fabric of the community. Definition of Terms Accompanier. A person providing accompaniment. Accompaniment. A model of helping relationship developed in L'Arche and in which a long-term assistant is assigned to listen, support, and guide another assistant. Assistant A person who assists the residents in the activities of daily living. Assistants work either in a house (house assistant), or in one of the work areas of the community (work assistant). Core people: Members of the community with a developmental disability. Core people are also referred as residents in this research. Covenant retreat. A retreat during which participants make a formal commitment to the ideals of L'Arche. House responsible: A person who coordinates the planning of responsibilities of the residents and assistants of a household. Long-term assistant. Assistant who has been in a community for at least two years. Residents: See core people. Retreat house responsible: A person who is responsible for a house of prayer and silence in some of the communities of L'Arche. (Shiloah does not have such a house however.) C H A P T E R F O U R Results This chapter presents the results of the analysis of the data from the twelve interviews. The direction of this research has been guided by the following questions: "What is the experience of living and working at L'Arche?" or "How do assistants experience, describe, and understand their experience of living and working at L'Arche?" These questions, posed in Chapter III, asked about the possibility of qualitative differences in the meaning and experience of L'Arche. Drawing upon the information that has been gathered, this chapter presents the story themes or core commonalities identified in the formal analysis of each participant's narrative. Thematization: The Phenomenology of Living and Working in L'Arche Six themes were identified from the stories collected. Each has from one to four subthemes. These themes and subthemes are outlined below: I. The experience of L'Arche involves a purposeful decision-making process. 1. Constancy of decision II. The experience of L'Arche involves a communal way of life. 1. Congruence with personal values 2. Alternative approach to work and service 3. "A place to call home" III. The experience of L'Arche involves a religious and spiritual dimension. 1. Faith 2. Spirituality 3. Conversion 4. Ecumenism IV. The experience of L'Arche promotes growth and learning. 1. Discovery of a unique gift 2. Process of self-discovery and self-development 3. Difficulties as milestones of growth V. The experience of L'Arche confronts participants with their own limitations. 1. Adjusting to an extensive workload 2. Interpersonal stress in relationships with core people 3. Interpersonal stress in relationships with assistants 4. Personal limitations VI. The experience of L'Arche involves conflicts and disagreements. 1. Repercussions of an unresolved conflict 2. Disagreements and hurts These themes and subthemes will be introduced and illustrated with quotations and descriptions showing how each manifested in the individual accounts. As the analysis progressed, these themes and subthemes were modified and refined numerous times until a satisfactory organization emerged. Although no specific request was made per se for a life review, the participants chose to describe their stories chronologically because it seemed to them to be the best approach to understanding the meaning of their journeys in L'Arche, and because focusing on present experiences seemed somewhat confusing to them. The exploration of life events preceding their coming to L'Arche and the consideration of past important life issues provided a narrative context to understand their choices of "career" and the present meaning of their lives and actions. It also provided a transition to the more intimate discussion of personal and communal issues. (Please note that people who are developmentally disabled will often be referred to as "core people" in this chapter, since this was the term used by the participants.) Theme I: The Experience of L'Arche Involves a Purposeful Decision-Making Process It is apparent in the data that the decision to come to L'Arche is intimately link to the meaning of the lives of each participant and takes place within a personal "journey". For all but one of the participants, an initial motivation was central to their decision of joining L'Arche (i.e., discovery of an alternative approach to caring for people, search for community). This decision was also associated with positive and hopeful expectations. Although four of the participants experienced some dissatisfaction with work or their personal lives prior to L'Arche, all joined for positive reasons rather than as an attempt to escape their previous difficult situations. Each in their own ways was searching for either an alternative to a lifestyle that was not particularly satisfying or to a "social movement" that could embody some of their hopes and beliefs. Coming to L'Arche seemed to give concrete expression to this "quest" or search for an alternative. In some cases, it was also intimately linked to the spiritual meaning that the participants ascribed to their lives. No one, however, had considered joining L'Arche before their first contacts with a community, nor had they known much about the movement (if at all). In that sense, encountering L'Arche was somewhat of an accident or a surprise to all of them. Prior to coming to L'Arche, Vivian worked seven years as an occupational therapist for a long-term care facility. While working for this institution, she found that their approach to human services reduced residents to the status of objects, devoiding them of their humanity, and greatly limiting their ability to enjoy life and make personal choices. She increasingly felt she had to leave that institution and seek a valid alternative in order to eventually come back and establish an approach based on better care, growth, and shared living. As she was engaged in a process of reflection regarding what direction to take, she attended talks given by Jean Vanier, and what he said about his own relationships with people with disabilities deeply resonated with Vivian's own values and experience. She said: When I heard him talk about the core people, it really, really corresponded to what I was thinking. These people, what they bring in my life, what I want to share with them. Like, he said something about "Love is I can't remember but I wrote it somewhere. For me, it was.. "Yes this is what I believe, and this is what is supposed to be here in this institution, this facility". And so I thought I have to go and see what L'Arche is, and, as I told you, when I left I didn't leave the people behind; I was leaving to bring something back. After a short stay in a community in Eastern Canada, she then decided to join L'Arche Shiloah in order to learn more about L'Arche's alternative approach to care and service. In 1987, Nigel went to England and lived in a Christian community for six months. The focus of the community was on personal and spiritual growth and involved a high level of personal sharing. This stay had a profound impact on him, and when he came back to Canada he felt very depressed because he did not think he could live this kind of experience in Canada. As he said: When I came back to Canada, I was very depressed because I had lived that intense community experience... So I came back and I felt very lost, very disappointed in the church, because the church was not community. There was no community in the church. After many months Nigel considered going back to school and thought of volunteering as a way of renewing himself. That's when he came across a notice asking for volunteers at L'Arche. When he first visited Shiloah, he was astonished to discover people living communally in Burnaby. He was at once interested in living in the community and joined soon thereafter. He stated: I remember walking away from Shiloah and just being astounded that community existed in Burnaby. A kind of community existed in Burnaby, you know, where people lived together; what I thought I was looking for.... I was really surprised. Outside of monasteries and convents I didn't think there was much.... I knew from the moment I went in there that I'd like to live there. I went away with that." At the time, he felt very much that God was leading him to L'Arche and to this way of life: "It seems that I was directed towards L'Arche, and I felt very much that way, you know, spiritually". For Carmen, her first encounter with L'Arche answered a deep felt yearning for a way of life and a mission which were perceived intuitively as very rich. On her first visit to L'Arche Trosly in France, Carmen identified very strongly with something that was sensed and perceived to pervade the "lived context", the atmosphere, or the lifestyle of L'Arche. Although unclear, this felt sense confirmed or answered a yearning or a sense of vocation already felt in her adolescence for a similar way of life. The effect of this first encounter was such for Carmen that she likened it to "being thrown off my horse" (as St-Paul on his road to Damascus). When asked to describe what had touched her so strongly during this first visit, she answered: I was identifying with something that was going on. It was the peace and the joy that was in all these people who were, you know, quite badly handicapped. And I remember it was a rainy day. In my mind, I had the impression the sun was just bursting. It was something, an energy that was going on there. I could not identify what, but this is what I was looking for when I was a teenager. For several years Gabrielle worked as a coordinator for a Women's Center and was actively involved in the women's and peace movements. While she was greatly inspired by issues of social justice, she felt that something important was missing in her life, and she very much yearned for greater openness and depth in her prayer life and in her spirituality. At the time Gabrielle first encounter L'Arche, she was in a process of reassessing the nature of her prior social involvement. She made the following realizations: I discovered at that time in my own journey what I had been involved in. Not so much the topic area, the areas of peace and justice and the women's movement, but the groups that I was involved with because they didn't have a spiritual component to them. I think there was a feeling of being lost somewhere in that, and I was spiritually dying in that. I had become so, so passionate about it and so much yearning for change, but it was all, you know, "we're going to do it", and God wasn't in the picture. Gabrielle's husband first became a member of the community, and a few ' years later, after much hesitation, Gabrielle, in turn, accepted to become a live-out assistant. She hesitated because she was concerned that her involvement would interfere with long-term family goals (i.e., moving back to the countryside, her husband's studies). Throughout those years, however, she yearned for a faith perspective on life and social actions and believes that God gradually led her (and her family) to the community. As Gabrielle remarked: I believe that if we are open, if we are deeply in touch with what we most long for on a spiritual level, that those doors will be presented to us, and then we always have the choice.... It was the spirit leading and we were open to following it by the grace of God, you know, it wasn't conscious. At the time of her first contact with L'Arche, Ella was divorced and had very few friends in the Vancouver area because she had recently moved to this region. She first came to L'Arche Shiloah with a friend of hers who was involved as a volunteer. During her first visits she was struck by the sense of family life, the attitude of genuine acceptance, and the lack of pretense of the people, particularly the core people. It reminded her of the family atmosphere she had known in her family of origin in Europe when she was young; relationships that she had lost once she immigrated to Canada. Prior to coming to L'Arche, Ella also worked as an occupational therapist and held a position of executive functioning. Although there was some satisfaction in this position and in helping people who had been ill or injured regain skills and autonomy, she very much questioned the meaningfulness of her work involvement and felt that she did not truly matter as a person. At L'Arche, in contrast, she very much felt valued, wanted, and appreciated for who she was. When her youngest son left home, it was therefore clear to her that she would become an assistant. Being at L'Arche satisfied Ella's needs for the creation of meaningful bonds (based on deep caring, acceptance, love, and belonging) and for personalized work. The following quotation summarizes well Ella's initial impressions: And that's what brought me, the sense of relationships, that people were just who they were, the sense of belonging, of being part of a clan, so to speak. And in that I found very quickly that I was accepted for who I was, that my skills were needed, that my presence was wanted, and that I was appreciated and loved. And, you know, in that I decided to stay. There was just no question in my mind that I belonged here; it's my home life, my family life." Lucas first learned about L'Arche at a retreat led by the priest/director of a rural L'Arche community in 1978. At the retreat, he was touched by the personal stories the retreat leader told about the core people of his community. He accepted his invitation to spend a month in the community, and after this stay decided to join the community. Lucas was eighteen years old at the time and stayed in that community for more than three years as a house assistant. Several elements contributed to making this first experience significant to him: he gained freedom from his family-of-origin; he was entrusted with responsibilities very soon; he experienced a deep sense of fellowship with the core people and the assistants; and finally found the experience of community deeply spiritual and religious. Although Lucas did not specify as such why he chose to join L'Arche, it is fair to assume that some of the elements outlined above played an important role in his decision. Subtheme: Constancy of initial motivations. For all the participants, the reasons for coming to L'Arche have remained central motivations throughout their involvement with L'Arche. Both Vivian and Ella, for instance, started their first interviews with a very similar statement. Ella said "I will start by telling you how I came because what brought me is basically what keeps me as well", and Vivian, "I'll start by explaining why I came because I think it's the motivation, and one of the motivations I still have". For Ella, therefore, experiencing a meaningful position within a larger and more personalized setting has continued to sustain her over time, and, for Vivian, discovering an alternative approach to work based on relationships, dialogue, and love has remained a strong source of encouragement and a dominant theme. Similarly, the search for community ran through Nigel's personal account and served as the ultimate measure against which he assessed the quality of his community experience. As for Vivian, she has felt much more fulfilled in her work because of the overall meaning of her commitment and has come to see her involvement in L'Arche over the years as a way of life. Carmen is still involved with L'Arche 17 years after her first contacts. Finally, Lucas has continued to take important responsibilities and remains very much inspired by the vision and spirituality of L'Arche. Theme II: The Experience of L'Arche Involves a Communal Way of Life Closely related to the previous theme and implicit in all six accounts, is the experience of a way of life that has a strong source of meaning and fulfillment to the participants. The experience of this way of life was related to three areas which constitute the subthemes: congruence with personal values and beliefs, alternative approach to work and service, and "a place to call home". Congruence with personal values and beliefs. The communal lifestyle of L'Arche appears congruent with personal values and goals and embedded in the personal philosophy and religious faith of the participants. It reflects a "lifestyle choice", where values of cooperation, dialogue, respect, acceptance, sharing, mutuality, and compassion, to name but a few, are seen as contributing to the creation of a sense of shared commitment and community. However, the acceptance of the value system underlying L'Arche may not be total and may require some compromises on the part of the assistants. (The third subtheme, a place to call home, also illustrates how L'Arche's way of life is congruent with personal values and beliefs) At the time of the interview, Vivian saw L'Arche as contributing very much to her happiness because of its way of life and its emphasis on cooperation, care, and "lifesharing" (as opposed to one based on productivity, competition, and hierarchy). Not being in L'Arche would mean the loss of a profound sense of "rightness" for her and the peace and sense of relational belonging associated with it. She described it in those terms: If there were no L'Arche I wouldn't be so happy. I would miss this very important thing in my life, like this peace, and that I am feeling at the right place. I feel here I can live my values, the values that my family taught me. I am not able to be in a society where you have to be productive rather than focus on the quality, where you have to beat everybody and fight. I am not able to be in a place where you have to be individualistic. I want us to live in cooperation together. I am not able to be in a place where there are powers issues, a power that you can't say anything against. Even though here there is power, you know, but in the structure there.is always a place to be listened to. I can always feel free to tell people, and I always feel that we are working together. Even in the conflicts, it could be hard but I am not going to destroy you. We are going to work together. And do that for the best. During her first years in L'Arche Carmen was impressed by the simplicity and honesty of life which corresponded to personal values she held. She said: What struck me was the simplicity of life, the truthfulness of everything. Yes, that's what I mean, it was not pretentious. It was living the values or the kind of life that corresponded to what was in your heart, you know, like the respect, the love between people, the simplicity of everything, the joy of every simple move. Lucas mentioned that the value system of L'Arche has been strongly influenced by Christian teachings. As people live in L'Arche, he stated, they increasingly identify with this value system. However, assistants do not necessary fully agree with the entire value system, and usually have to make some concessions to accept some of its values and beliefs. He said: They are certain things that we know about L'Arche, it's living with people for example, it's a Christian community, the roots are Catholic. There is a certain way of being that you discovered during the first years. And you live with it, and it becomes part of you, of the way you think, the way you live, being with the poor, the way we worship. There is something that is there, like the way of L'Arche, the Spirit of L'Arche that we talked a lot about. And this, you choose it, often not totally though, like "I could live with that". Later in the interview, he added: When you enter L'Arche you enter into that mold that you say yes to, and you don't live it perfectly, nobody lives it perfectly. Everybody has some reservations with it. A n alternative approach to work and service. The way of living and working of L'Arche provides an alternative model of caring for various populations in need. The social, political, and spiritual dimensions of the model reflects a different view of work, relationships, and social action, and appears to be a strong source of hope and inspiration. As work often stems from a sense of vocation, the distinction between work and leisure dissolves, and the spiritual meaning of the experience generates a holistic sense of "integration". During the previous three years, Vivian has discovered "a totally different way "of doing her previous work, one that reflects her concern and love for the core people and her desire to contribute to their well-being. Vivian mentioned: I think what L'Arche has been for me during these three years is that it has been a place where I can do the work I have chosen to do as a professional in a totally different way.... And here I am not an occupational therapist, I'm just me doing what I think is good, to help people grow.... It's like to be able, not to be able, ..it's because I love these people, I love these people and I want them to have the best quality of life. Here, I can do the things I would do for someone I love. For both Vivian and Gabrielle the principles that underlined the vision and mission of L'Arche, that is, service, community living, and solidarity with people who are in needs or who are rejected are very significant because their relevance and applications go well beyond the movement of L'Arche itself, and could be applied to different groups in need, such as the elderly people or the street people. They find it inspiring that L'Arche is not only a concrete example of people living and working together according to these principles, but that it also points out to this larger social vision. Moreover, Vivian intends to eventually establish a small home promoting the same approach when she returns to her country, for she sees the need for such an alternative in the care of the elderly. L'Arche's mission to change the world "one heart at a time" satisfies Gabrielle's longing for social change, although small in scope. This approach has an "organic" quality to it for her, as it develops slowly in natural communities and is shaped by the spiritual meaning of the vision of the movement. Finally, the intentional creation of small communities with handicapped people is for her a telling sign of inclusiveness, hope, and peace-making. For these reasons she sees her involvement in L'Arche as a "lifestyle choice" whereby she experiences an integration of beliefs and actions. Gabrielle said: I'm so keenly aware of how different it is to work, to be at Shiloah, than it is at another job because, you know, the spiritual aspect of it is completely integrated. There is the overall covenant. L'Arche is about changing the world, it satisfies that longing in me. It's very small, it's one step at a time, one heart at a time. It's just a sign, not a solution. It's very different from the way I was going at it before, kind of an urgency and just kind of driven. This is more... there is an integration of what God is, part of the organic process of calling into being these communities. It's not just L'Arche. Like I am not saying L'Arche is really the way to go at all. I'm saying for me that I never had that experience before. It's a lifestyle choice, a choice to live in a certain way that is much more integrated and has integrity because the spiritual is so much a part of the whole thing.... And it's not just this little community, but that there are little signs all over the world gives me so much hope. I'm so hopeful. Ella added that the alternative lifestyle of L'Arche has strongly contributed to her spiritual journey and made it possible for her to gain greater insights into the human condition. In L'Arche her main concern has been the well-being of the people who live in her household, including her own well-being. She remarked: All these insights have come about because I live such a different life here, I don't have to worry about the phone bill, the light bill, I don't have to be worried about being laid off, the rent, you know, any of those things. Upkeep of the house, it's all taken care of, but I do have to worry, if that's the proper term, about the well-being of the people that are giving to me and my own well-being. So that's a very different way of life. Working at L'Arche has never felt like "work" to Lucas. He attributes this to the diversity of the roles he held, the belief that he was called to L'Arche and to these positions, and maybe in part to the fact that he lived where he worked. As he stated: Even though I have had all these roles, I have never felt I was working. Like I feel I have no work experience yet (laughter). Because it has always come from a sense of being called or being a servant and I never felt like "Oh I don't want to go to work". Like I never felt like that. Seeing the work of L'Arche in poor countries greatly inspires Lucas and resonates as deeply in him as it did when he first came to L'Arche 17 years ago. He declared: The beauty of L'Arche still inspires me a lot. When I think of what L'Arche lives in Haiti in the crisis, when I read the letters by Mary Egan and all of that, "God, it's so powerful, it's so crazy, and it's so fragile". That part of L'Arche still echoes in me, it just touches the same thing it touched when I came to L'Arche the first time. A place to call home. The need to belong, with a sense of social acceptance and contribution, is a core life motivation for the participants. In the following quotations the willingness to share oneself, mutuality in relationships, and wholehearted acceptance from the core people contributed to the experience of a sense of belonging or of "a place to call home". At L'Arche Carmen felt accepted for who she was, regardless of her physical handicap or of personal strengths and weaknesses. (Carmen was partly paralyzed by polio in her early twenties.) You know, you read about it in the textbooks, "unconditional acceptance". So there it was not an intellectual concept, it was something we lived. Therefore it seems to reveal the best of me. The profound sense of acceptance that she experienced in L'Arche was illustrated by the impression she had when she first came to L'Arche that her physical handicap wasn't noticed by others, that she almost needed to state it overtly to have it acknowledged. Would you believe that for the first few months I had the impression that people didn't notice that I was handicapped. I had the impression I would have to sit down with some people and say, "I wanna share something with you. You know I have a handicap too". And my handicap is visible, eh, but that's the impression I had. It makes me laugh when I think of that. Because Gabrielle had never been a house assistant she felt she had somehow "come to the community through the back door". In addition, having worked mostly with assistants rather than with core people, Gabrielle felt a nagging sense of incompleteness with regard to her experience. Being in daily contact with the core people for six weeks during the last fall, however, deepened her bonds with them and validated the contribution she made to the community. Feeling accepted and loved by Noel and Saul, two non-verbal core people, was particularly significant to this change. She recounted: Something that was really significant for me, in terms of a turning point in believing and trusting in my place, because you know being part of a community is wanting to belong... It was when, and it's gonna sound funny, but it's like... I can remember Noel's first kiss. Yeah, that gesture you know, Noel pulling my nose, kissing my forehead, I could have died you know (laughs). Because it was his "Thank you, I see you, I accept you and I like you and you're important to me, you're important enough to me that I'll do that". And that was so moving for me. And the same thing with Saul... I forget what had happened but I had had a really really hard morning and was very close to tears or they were just right there, anything could have triggered it. And I walked in the woodworking shop and Saul took... I was standing in there, he took my head and pressed it into his chest and just held me there. He had never done that before. It was just like he knew I was really hurting. He took me and he held me. And it was so gentle. The gestures was just "Aaah!" (to express appreciation and beauty of the moment). And all I could do, you know, was just not cry at that point (laughs). It was so beautiful.... Experiencing that in Emmaus this year too, for six weeks in Emmaus. It was really significant for me. I think it's a piece that had been missing somewhere for me. Kind of a longing, really loving what I was doing with the assistants.finding so much life in that too, believing it was really important. But then, yeah being accepted and feeling I really had a place in my heart for those wonderful people. After having been a member of two teams that lacked cohesiveness and trusting relationships, Nigel moved to a new household where assistants were able to share personal feelings and were willing to work through interpersonal difficulties and disagreements. He experienced understanding between assistants for the first time and it contributed to the creation of a sense of community within his team. Here is how he described it: I think it's the first time I really began to experience community in the house too. Because Jacqueline had been at Terra Nova and was very much a person who wanted to talk about her feelings; in fact to the extreme end of it, from where there had been no vulnerability to now there was a lot of vulnerability, sometimes too much vulnerability. And then April came and there was really a sense that we were welcoming this person to live community. It's not just somebody arriving who, "OK we will think about community", but there was a real sense of "OK we are going to live community here, you know, like the three of us. We are going to work through things". And we did, we worked through conflicts, we worked through insecurities and anxieties, and you know, things came up... Nigel saw the possibility of sharing feelings, struggles, and experiences with his team members as essential conditions to this greater openness. He spoke about the importance of speaking at a level of "vulnerability", and described it as the ability to "express emotions". He added: There was vulnerability I think for the first time since I was in a team, like real vulnerability. It was possible to express your emotions. That was the first time that I experienced... resolution or understanding I think is more... you know, understanding between people, understanding where people are coming from. Reflecting on his four year-long stay in this household, Nigel remarked that he experienced a sense of mutuality in his house in that he gave a lot of himself and received a lot in return: It was a good place to live, like I enjoyed living there. So it provided something for me. It wasn't a one-way thing where I gave, gave, and gave. It was very much a mutual thing in which I received a lot and I enjoyed my home. During her interviews, Ella shared numerous reflections on herself, spirituality, and life in general. She believes that this honest process of reflection and self-examination is closely related to the attitudes of openness and sharing that is promoted in L'Arche. And that sort of opening up of my awareness is promoted through my life in L'Arche. It's an environment that invites openness, invites sharing, and in general you're not punished for it, but you're rewarded by it. Not in any material sense but in the sense that people appreciate when others share whether it's a struggle, whether it's something good. Especially, I think when it's a struggle because you say "I know about this, I know about it". So when somebody says publicly something that I'm struggling with, I feel a greater affection for that person, a greater compassion, whatever, you know. And so that feeds the whole cycle of personal growth and interrelationships. For Lucas, being in daily contact with the core people during the last year have helped him rediscover the importance of his relationships with them and the profound value of these people for him. Prior to our first interview, Lucas had just led a core people retreat and had very much enjoyed his time with two core members, Frank and Charles. He mentioned: Frank came for the week-end too and I haven't been with Frank for a long time. I just had a blast with him. I just fell in love with him again. I saw myself when I was 18 again. This is one of the gifts of this last year. I have these moments of rediscovering the core people and it is so deep in me. Frank, this week-end, just awakened something very young, very silly. It's very therapeutic in a way. Charles, the way Charles loves me, the way Frank was with me this week-end. This part, it just sets fire to my love for L'Arche. Theme III: The Experience of L'Arche Involves a Religious and Spiritual Dimension Religious beliefs and spirituality are core elements of the meaning system of the participants and fundamental dimensions of their experience of L'Arche. Analysis of the theme revealed four subthemes or subthemes: Faith, Spirituality, Conversion, and Ecumenism. Spirituality and religious beliefs were experienced in slightly different ways by the participants depending on which subthemes surfaced in the interviews. Faith. The belief in the providence and presence of God in life appears to be a unifying dimension in the lives of the participants. They have faith in a divine dimension guiding them and feel the need to deepen a personal relationship with this mystery. Faith enables them to deepen the meaning of their lives, and most relied on their faith to make important decisions or discern the right courses of action. For Gabrielle, Nigel, and Lucas, faith played a key role in their understanding of self, others, and community life. Vivian did not directly refer to God, but faith appeared to be nonetheless an important dimension in her vision of life and L'Arche. Finally, for Ella, at the core of her experience of L'Arche and life, lay an awareness of the love of God at work in her and in the world. Gabrielle personally experiences God in most aspects of her life and has a strong belief in divine providence. Reflecting on major life decisions, she stated "But the thread is that there was God in me and I thought that's what God wanted me to do." Similar statements were made in various occasions during the interviews. For instance: I mean in terms of spiritual journey there has always been that part of me, I think since I was a child, very much aware of it, of God.... This is my feeling, that God really wanted me to make up these connections, really wanted me to see the big picture.... I believe God will be with me wherever I go.... It's about God being there and doing the best we can in front of that. During her interviews, Vivian did not refer to God or to religious beliefs. However, she chose to describe the circumstances of the following incident as indicative of her positive experience of L'Arche. At a parking lot Vivian was given a free parking ticket on a rainy day when she and Fred (a core person) had no money. She found that incident strange and puzzling, particularly in light of the fact that it was offered to her at the precise moment she needed it (and that three similar incidents involving money had happened in the previous six months). Vivian drew a certain comfort from these unusual coincidences which gave her a sense of being provided or guided when needed. As she said: "I think it's symbolic of somebody, maybe, bringing me here and continuing to take care of me". As seen in Theme I, Nigel felt "directed towards L'Arche" at a time when he was very much longing for community life. The faith in God's guidance remained a central element of Nigel's journey in L'Arche, and was particularly crucial during his first year in the community. During this period Nigel lived through a series of very dramatic incidents, including the attempted suicide of an assistant and the violent attacks of a core person who had a severe mental disorder. He attributed his remaining committed to L'Arche during those difficult times to the support he received through "accompaniment" (a model of helping relationship developed in L'Arche and in which a long-term assistant is assigned to listen, support, and guide another assistant), and to the strong inner certainty he had about his decision of living in L'Arche. Here is how he described it: After about a year in community I was at a place of thinking "My God, what the hell is this? This is like torture. Why would I continue to live this?" you know. And then we welcomed Greg who was equally difficult. So it seems it was one experience after another that was difficult. I think it was recognized also that I really lived a lot of really difficult experiences. And I think the only thing that really kept me through that was that I really felt accompanied, that I really felt strongly about being there, that it was really right, that I was really supposed to be there. Gabrielle is convinced that unity and solidarity in community life could not be achieved without God's grace and guidance. She stated: Community is about peace-making... It's not about separating handicapped people and normal people. It is such an inclusivity that touches my longing for what I want this world to be. And there is such a desire to make that happened. And it's from God there is no doubt in my mind, because it would be impossible otherwise. The human frailty, the human inability to accept differences. And yet it's happening, not that it's easy, it's really hard work. As a community director, Lucas also had a deep trust in God's guidance. He stressed: My experience has been really trusting. I had a deep faith that I was led or that we were led as a community. And that was my safety in a way, even though I used my knowledge, my logic, and my wisdom. But somewhere what was carrying me a lot was a deep faith that we were a community of God. Like I operated a lot from that place. As Ella listened to the summary of the first interview, she realised she had overlooked one essential element, namely, the central importance of the grace of God in her experience of L'Arche. She remarked: As I was listening to you, what I thought I did not convey, and I don't know if I could, is how important the grace of God is in all of this. And I really feel the reality of that, and the beneficence of God toward me in particular, but I mean it's just not me, it's the whole world that benefits from that.... As I was listening to it, I thought "I am making a lot of statements there, but it sounds very much like coming from the head", but what I have learned in life has been revealed to me rather than discovered by me. Spirituality. This subtheme includes the narration of three vivid experiences by Nigel, Lucas, and Gabrielle. These narration revolves around the spiritual meaning of community life, ritual, and God. In those experiences the participants felt intimately connected with one another, the world around them, or God. During his first years in L'Arche, Lucas felt such an intense joy and sense of fulfillment that he wished at times of prayer that his friends and family members could know and feel what he was living. He declared: To say how powerful it was for me and how much I loved the experience, at times of prayer I wanted my friends and family to experience a part of what I was experiencing; it was so beautiful that I thought "Just come for half an hour, just to feel what I am living". Gabrielle was very touched by her first community prayer service in L'Arche. The utter simplicity of the gathering, the lively and joyful participation of the core people in the music and singing, the genuine sincerity of the prayers expressed, the small gestures of kindness between people, and the heterogeneous composition of the group, all contributed to make this first meeting an intensely real experience of community life for her. It felt intensely inclusive and conveyed a sense of God welcoming all. For Gabrielle, it was indeed a concrete embodiment of the ark (L"'arche" in English). Here is how she recounted that encounter: That whole prayer, you know, that whole gathering of people, just the way they prayed together; I was so touched by that. There was just no pretense. There was just such a simplicity in how they came together. I mean there was just the reading of the word, a few reflections, and people prayed out loud from the heart in a way that doesn't happen in church. And then the music and the way the core people participated in the music; it was such a discordant sound for a musician to listen to. I am a person that loves fine music of all kind, but there was such a joyful, beautiful sound in the music too that was coming from the heart, yeah. And these people were really close to God, you know, just (inaudible). JC: There was a genuine sincerity in the prayers, in the faith, and in the music. Oh yeah and it was wherever they were, I mean there were people crying, people laughing, like Donna expressing with her hands, Stacey just keeping the beat, you know just everybody being there with the Lord. Yeah, just incredibly rich. It's something I have never experienced in any other worship circles, in a church for example, you know. So it was just a hodgepodge of people, all different kinds of people, just a variety of people there. And such a welcome in that, a richness of spirit, (sighs) And yet it touched something really essential I guess with my beliefs....(silence).of God welcoming everybody, you know, into the kingdom. It was a microcosm of that... I mean I experienced it at all different levels, just in the way people were sitting beside me, in the way they were together, in how they helped each other find the pages in the book, just assisting and an awareness of each other. Even the core people helping one another, just like friends. That was very evident too. Yeah, it was water for a thirsty soul, you know. (Tears) When asked to describe an incident that stood out as very positive, Nigel chose to recount his first covenant retreat. He was very touched by the beauty of the spirituality of the retreat and had an intimate sense of God being present. He related it in those terms: I would say that I had a real deep appreciation of the spirit of it. And particularly there was Adoration.... And I had a real deep sense of God within that. And then there was at night a vigil, overnight vigil when people took a block of time, prayer over the night, and I just found that to be an amazing experience. JC: Can you tell me what was amazing for you? Well, it was a spiritual experience. There was just a real deep sense of peace. And I remember just one day laying there, and this is gonna sound funny, but I had the impression we would have cream of celery for lunch, and then I went downstairs for lunch and we had cream of celery soup. Just a sense of God being very close.... This was really an experience of "Yes, there is a communion here, a real communion, something very powerful between us in what we live". Convers ion. Being in L'Arche led some participants to a "conversion" or to a transformation in how they saw themselves and others, and to a reassessment of some of their core "spiritual" values. Having felt deeply accepted in L'Arche enabled Carmen to see the essential intrinsic worth and beauty of others, and particularly of those with a handicap. She stated: They were looking at me for what was in my heart, not what I looked like, not with my handicap. They looked at me and they accepted me the way I was, and I think it revealed to me "I'm O.K. the way I am". I was able then to look at the others and also discover that in spite of what they have as a handicap, you know, whether it's an emotional or physical or intellectual handicap, it's the human being that's behind that external appearance that we want to go and reach. You know that place where God is.... The Beauty of the person, the real Beauty of the person. Over time Carmen developed a sense of gratefulness as a result of her handicap and of her involvement with L'Arche because it led her to greater compassion in life. She declared: I told you the two things that changed my life: my own illness and my encounter with L'Arche. So those were two drastic life changes, and I'm grateful for both because even now I am grateful. Would you think that possible? But sometimes I really reflect upon that and, the more I grow old and the more I think, even my physical handicap has been a gift from God because it allowed me to become probably a more empathic human being. Several of Ella's reflections revolved around Christianity and the meaning that its teachings had for her. She believes that the essence of the Christian faith is healthy, but requires a thorough examination as to what is fundamental and what is arbitrary and based on a faulty understanding of service. Whereas the traditional teachings of the Church taught people to give of themselves and be humble and self-effacing, Ella believes that the gospels rather invite people to give to others out of their own goodness and true generosity. She stated: What we are taught in childhood in the Christian faith is that you have to be generous and kind and giving to other people. You've got to be meek and mild and gentle and not be selfish. That's what we are taught but this is not what Christianity teaches. It teaches to be kind to others, yes, but out of what? Out of the goodness, because this is a good person or this is a person in need, but I am too a good person and a person in need. And therefore if I give more than I can, I end up giving nothing because I am not being true to myself and I do more than I can.... But in order to share your life out of generosity, there has to be generosity and joy there. And that can't be if you don't love yourself, if you don't feel you're a good person. Her views of Christianity have been strongly influenced by Jean Vanier's philosophy, the retreats she attended, and the lifestyle, mission, and identity of L'Arche. She added: That is basically what Jean Vanier talks about, that's what I hear, that's what gets preached in retreat, that's what is promoted in our lives together, the mission and identity of L'Arche, the Charter, all these things are based on that. That we are good people, that all of us have something to bring, whether we are handicapped or not. The following incident proved to be a turning point for Ella in her relationships with the core people. In this incident, Dolores, a core person who suffers from a severe mental disorder, injured herself badly when Ella prevented her from throwing a mug at another core person. When Ella bursts into tears the next day, Dolores quickly came to her assistance and begged her to stop crying for fear that she may herself loose control again. Ella was very touched by this gesture and by Dolores's fundamental dependence on her for safety and emotional stability, and this in spite of the injury Dolores had suffered because of her intervention. This incident was somewhat of a watershed for Ella because, for the very first time, she felt that it was truly OK to be vulnerable and powerless with the core people, and also realized that they wanted a genuine contact with the human and tender side of her person. On this last point she said: There was something very significant for me happening there. Somewhere I broke through having to be capable and on top of. It was just taken away for me in a sense. And Dolores was a tool in that. Somewhere I discovered in the living that even when I am not in control, that's OK with the handicapped people. They want the real me, not the capable me. The fixing, competent, managing. You know they want the real me, so Mama Ella, even so that she called me that or "Grandma Ella, Don't cry because I need you to be capable, because I need you to be safe with me", and at the same time really accepting that that whole event of the day before when she was really bleeding like a stuck pig, to the point that we had to replace the carpet, it was OK somehow, it was OK, she didn't hold against me what happened because somewhere she knew that she was responsible too. We are in it together sort of. I can't describe, I can't really put words, what was so significant in that particular event but it's a major event in all the years in L'Arche. Ecumenism. A few participants touched upon the ecumenical aspect of living in L'Arche. Nigel spoke about some of the tensions inherent to community life in a multidenomenational setting, and Gabrielle and Lucas stressed the importance of this element for them. During his first year, Nigel was aware of the wide range of ethical and religious beliefs in the community, and was particularly concerned that he may be stereotyped or misunderstood because of his very conservative Evangelical religious background. He mentioned: I also discovered that a lot of people in the community seemed to have different... their beliefs were not the same as mine. Morality was not the same as mine. Spirituality was not the same, and I felt even, maybe somewhat judged in my own spirituality by people in the community, not understanding where I was or not even being comfortable with my faith or where I was coming from in that. And not wanting to be mislabeled or labeled, you know, fanatic, whatever. So I felt very sensitive around all of those things. For Gabrielle, L'Arche's openness to various denominations, faith, and cultures, and its international composition, are sources of much inspiration and hope. She stated: For me it's very important that L'Arche is inclusive of other faiths, you know, there is not just the Christian faith. That's what is so appealing to me, that it's open to... and trying to live something impossible, you know, the Catholic and the Anglican, the different people from the different Christian churches. Trying to working it out, living it out, different faiths and different cultures, and that it is a world wide network, that it is a federation. Lucas's on-going contacts with people from the Protestant tradition has strongly influenced how he sees himself as a Catholic: After 16 years of involvement [in L'Arche]l have changed. I am not the same at 35 than I was at 18. I am the same but I am not the same, you know. I came to L'Arche as a Catholic person. I had never met a Protestant in my life. Now I have lived mostly with Protestants from different churches. So my thinking as a Catholic person, or maybe who used to be Catholic, has changed. Theme IV: The Experience of L'Arche Promotes Growth and Learning Growth and learning is a theme clearly present in each account. The patterns of growth in the narratives are recognized in the ability of the participants to go out to others, to care for them, to exercise a reasonable self-sufficiency, to set realistic goals, to make decisions, to accept their limitations, flexibility, adaptability, and emotional stability. The theme is constituted of three subthemes: discovery of a unique gift, process of self-discovery and self-development, and difficulties as milestones of growth. Discovery of a unique gift. This subtheme refers to the discovery and development of a "gift" by Gabrielle and Carmen. By gift, they implied a special feeling that they were especially suitable to fulfill a particular role in life. As they lived in community and expanded their awareness of who they were, they gained new insights into what they felt particularly gifted in terms of talents and abilities and into what they could uniquely contribute to others. It clarified a new vocational role for them and led them to develop their potential in that area. During a regional retreat Gabrielle was asked to reflect on the meaning of her life and try to identify a "basic thread", that is, a consistent, unified pattern of actions and motivations running through her life and that was indicative of a central life theme. During her reflections Gabrielle came to the realization that her dominant lifetheme was "to walk with others", or to share intimately in people's journey. The realization of this basic life orientation was very significant to her and felt very much like she had uncovered a "gift". Here is how she described So we all went away and did our own little reflections. And it came really clear to me and it was really profound and it was really a gift. It was very significant, kind of a turning point for me, that the thread in my life has been to walk with others. Like accompaniment is something I have done since I'm a little girl. I've been drawn to be with people in that way. To name it was really... it was so tender, I didn't tell anybody. I just "Aaaah..." it was a gift. How that might look and that might unfold, it doesn't really matter in a way... Yeah that was a gift that was given to me just through the resources and richness of L'Arche because fundamentally the spirituality, the spirit is at the heart of it. At that same retreat, Gabrielle was asked for the very first time to provide accompaniment at an upcoming retreat. She interpreted this surprising coincidence as a confirmation of the insight she had just gained and accepted to volunteer. As a result of her involvement in L'Arche, Carmen discovered abilities and talents that she was not aware of having and decided to acquire the knowledge and training necessary to become an art therapist. And it's about my stay in Solames that I decided to go back to university to train as an art therapist, because there, in Solames, I had learned with my previous art experience that I could use that as a way of interacting with the people, especially the ones who were non-verbal, but I was just doing it out of instinct, you know, I had no specific training.... So, you see, once again L'Arche was instrumental in identifying a gift that I had that I used only for my own pleasure, but now that gift was used to help people develop and grow... L'Arche revealed to me this gift that I had not expected to have. Process of self-discovery and self-development. Process of self-discovery and self-development, by far the largest subtheme, includes various learning experiences in which the participants took risks of thinking and acting in new ways, reexamined their positions, gained new insights, deepened inferiority, considered new possibilities, and accepted personal responsibility. At L'Arche Vivian learned to see positive value in the interpersonal stress and conflicts that unavoidably surface because they generate new learning and growth, including the ability to forgive which she has always found difficult. On this last point Vivian stated: I can tell you that something that is very difficult for me is to forgive. This is ... I have a lot of difficulty with that. But here, step by step I'm learning to do it. I'm not at the point "Yeah, it's easy for me to forgive". That's not right, but, you know what I mean, I see myself making steps. And I am happy about that. It's like "Wow, they teach me that..." Closely related to Vivian's experience of forgiveness, is the recognition that what others did to her is something she has done or could well have done to others. Acknowledging this prompted her to state that she discovered, thanks to her experience in L'Arche, that her choice of profession involved a larger meaning, that of a vocation, an overall orientation in life. And I told you the first six months at Shiloah were very difficult. But we're still human beings, and the things done to me that I found difficult, I did it to another person. JC: You found yourself sometimes not necessarily welcoming. That's right, I did that too. And realizing that helps me change things in my life. To want to be better.... So, as I told you, at this point right now, I know that when I chose my profession it wasn't a work that I wanted to do but more of a vocation. Nigel's growth as a House Responsible was illustrated by how he learned to handle responsibilities and deal with Monty, a core member who had on-going behavioral problems. Whereas in his two first years as a House Responsible he had felt overly responsible, in his subsequent years he came to the realization that he was unable to control most of Monty&