'We become most human when we are most loved'
Summer in the Forest, a documentary about L'Arche Community, carries a message which is badly needed in our troubled times
‘God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,’ Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27; ‘God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.’
It’s a beautiful principle, but one that we’re often tempted to embrace more in theory than in practice. We love the idea of Jesus spending time among the powerless, but in our own lives we find ourselves drawn to power in all its forms: money, success, glamour, intellectual superiority.
In the 1960s, one man, a Catholic philosopher and ex-Naval officer named Jean Vanier, decided to take a headlong leap into God’s ‘foolish’ kingdom. Deeply moved by an encounter with two intellectually disabled men who he found incarcerated in an asylum, he arranged for their release and invited them to come and live with him. This was the beginning of the first L’Arche Community in Trosly, France. There are now 151 of these communities in 37 countries around the world, where people with learning disabilities live alongside their carers, discovering their humanity together.
New documentary Summer in the Forest (in cinemas and online 23 June) is a funny and profound glimpse into this unique way of life. The film focuses on a handful of members in the Trosly community - peaceable Michel, romantic Andre, would-be action hero David - as well as Jean Vanier himself, as they go about their daily lives and reflect on what they’ve built together at L’Arche.
As we watch, the ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary. The simple act of sharing a meal, a joke, a walk in the woods, becomes a spiritual communion. ‘These were people who were at the bottom of the ladder of social status,’ says Jean Vanier, of the first L’Arche members, ‘but they taught me what it means to be a human person, how to love.’
Summer in the Forest carries a message which is badly needed in our troubled times: that amazing possibilities can be created when we’re willing to let go of ourselves, and embrace someone who is different. The film reminds us that we become most human when we are most loved, not when we are most powerful; and that on the other side of our fears and prejudices, God’s value system is waiting to turn our own upside-down.
This article comes from Damaris Media, which creates free film resources for community groups.
Damaris has published a free, downloadable companion booklet to go alongside Summer in the Forest, looking at the stars of the film and the wisdom of Jean Vanier.
Summer in the Forest is in cinemas and available online from 23 June. Visit www.summerintheforest.com for more information.