DAY 8 The serious business and intentionality with which people listened and reflected on the introduction and teaching on the history, ethos and Community’s Rule of Life was much in evidence as we spent the morning together. The folks gathered here have come to do business with God and it’s a joy to witness their resolve and to listen to their stories which have led them to explore journeying with the Community.
It was heartening and challenging to hear the experiences of our two of our Companions in the Netherlands, geographically isolated from one another and any other Community folk, share what it means to be Alone yet Together in Community.
It’s once again a privilege to witness the impact of the Community’s Rule of Life in giving coherence, a ‘language’, affirmation and encouragement to people who have been seeking God and struggling to find a place to call home. I am encouraged that the seeds sown many years ago, when we first made connections with people like Floor, are now bearing fruit in both the Netherlands and Belgium. There is a real sense that something is emerging now that will see more growth of the Community within these countries. Our Community Weekend here has not only drawn Dutch and Belgians though. It’s been delightful to welcome five Americans, three now living in Amsterdam and two in Brussels. Christine from Germany, now living and settled in London journeyed here by train and her presence as someone who last year completed the novitiate process has been very helpful.
After a full morning we enjoyed another sumptuous lunch and then relaxed on a free afternoon that saw some go for a walk around the woodlands and springs that make this place a spa town, others stayed and enjoyed the comfort of this big and beautiful home, some enjoyed a siesta and others pottered around the town.
We gathered together again for Evening Office followed by a meal during which we shared the Community’s Family Communion, Around a Meal Table. This simple yet powerful liturgy conveys the gift of community in its words, simple actions and gestures.
Retiring to the drawing room, wine and beer flowed as did a conversation on the novitiate process and what it means to those who wish to explore and journey further with the Community.
Aware of the gift and special place that this house is, we asked Pascale to share its story. Like some many happenings in the Community, much has been borne of struggle. Pascale and her husband always had a dream of parenting a large family; their own biological children and adopting others, particularly children with physical and mental handicaps. The vision became a reality with a move from Brussels to Spa back in the 1990’s. With a vision for getting a large home for their growing family they came to this house. An amazing, big and beautiful house with lots of grounds and garden space. The only problem was their large vision did not correspond to a large sum of money to purchase the property! The banks would not lend them the all the money required to buy the house, but determined and undeterred, Pascale’s husband, Benoit shared the situation with his Dutch employer, who miraculously lent them the remaining money needed to proceed. Several years later the company closed its operations in Belgium and Benoit lost his job. So what of the loan? His Dutch boss wiped off the outstanding debt in an extraordinary act of generosity that served the purpose of helping a family who were providing home and family to children who would otherwise have been in institutions. There were still some bank loans to pay off and the ensuing years, where employment was uncertain, were difficult but the family grew and their home here was established. Tragedy hit the family six years ago when Benoit died, (he was just in his forties) and out of the devastation and sorrow has emerged a greater resolve and determination to continue the work of making home and family for those whom society struggles with integrating. Pascale, now the mother of five of her own children and four adopted, handicapped children, plus Gauthier, one of their adopted children who died, also fosters babies on a frequent basis for a few months at a time, from when they are born until the time when suitable adoptive parents are found.
It is a joy and privilege to be part of this remarkable family, living, sharing and working together. Society has many unsung heroes, who shun publicity and prefer just to get on with living the life they feel called to. Being among such folks stands in such stark contrast to the lifestyles and values of so much contemporary western consumerism. Creating home and ‘family’, being hospitable, welcoming the stranger, being compassionate and celebrating the things that really matter ~ people, the earth we are called to tread lightly on and God, these are what matters. Material things, consumer goods, possessions, they are secondary to simply being human.
We listed to the meditation for Day 19 on Friday night as we shared Evening Office and the words certainly capture the experience of this home here.
Lord, take this song and fill it with your presence
Let it bring a word of hope to weary, care-full hearts
Take this song and fill it, Lord
Fill it with yourself
Lord, take my life and fill it with your praises
Let me speak a word of peace that Jesus brings in me
Take this life and fill it, Lord
Fill it with yourself
Lord, take this place and fill it with your blessing
Let it be a haven where the poor in spirit sing
Take this place and fill it Lord
Fill it with your praise