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The Small Things

November 2021 – Currently director of the Christian Office for Persons with a Disability in Paris,
Philippe de Lachapelle was previously a member of L’Arche for 25 years, and was the national leader of L’Arche in France for a number of years.
Philippe tells us here how he nourishes his inner life.

Only rarely have I asked myself this question: “how do I nourish my inner life?” In trying to answer it, however, I have to recognise that I don’t nourish it! The inner life is given to me. And all I do is receive it and joyfully acknowledge how much it is being nourished- and the way that happens!

It is nourished especially through people: for example, the longer I am married, the easier it is to imagine, and even almost touch, the reality of God’s unconditional love for me… My children’s lives continually teach me to love all the more that Wind that really does blow where It wants, and not where I want (Jn. 3:8)… The day by day meetings with people who have faced the trial of illness or disability, make me enter ever more deeply into the mystery of evil that can do so much damage to our lives; but I also enter more deeply into the kind of Hope that can overpower everything, to the point that, in our lives, it is Love and not evil that has the last word (St John Paul II)…The more vulnerable people I meet, the more I walk with them into the experience of my own fragility, my own flaws; and I also I realise that this is where God comes to make his home. This is the fragile God whom I never stop discovering: he himself is so vulnerable, and so powerless, and yet still the one who changes everything through his all-powerful Love!… The more I work with the people of OCH (french Christian Office for Persons with a Disability) to develop our mission, the more I can taste the joy that Luke announces in his Gospel: ‘He sent them out two by two… they came back full of joy’ (Lk. 10:1-17). And the more I learn to contemplate the beauty of a flower, a landscape, a moment of grace, or a person, the more I enter into the ecological conversion that Pope Francis calls for in Laudato Si which bears peace.

All this is given to me: the ‘only’ thing I have to do is receive it… but that still means I need to follow a small strategy, to get into the right frame of mind. I have found that what works for me throughout the day is to adopt a “strategy of tiny actions”: at sunrise, through the fogginess of my brain, to address these words to God: ‘may this day be Yours’. During my 45-minute cycle to work, to sing praises out loud, entrusting the day ahead to God: the people, the meetings, my family, OCH members, chance encounters I might have… and then I pray or sing the Rosary. And then on reaching the office, I read the Gospel of the day, observing the scene with my mind’s eye: where am I in this text, and also who am I? Then for a few minutes, I try to have a friendly to and fro with Jesus. And later, before each meeting, I ask God to be present. And before sending a letter or tax receipt, I entrust the recipient to the goodness of God… And so on until my bike ride home again. At that point, while pedalling along the banks of the Seine, I ask forgiveness for any harm I might have done, and for my flaws in implementing this strategy! But above all, I give thanks for the day! I say thank you for what was good, and also for what was difficult, and for the people, … whenever possible, I complete these small steps by going to the Eucharist and shared prayer at OCH.

This strategy of the ‘tiny actions’ suits me. Through it, I discover the truth of these words of Father David Wilson, the priest of L’Arche Les Trois Fontaines (France): ‘What counts in prayer is not the words, but the clinging to Jesus’. And when things are so difficult for me that I can’t even do that, then at that point, Father Wilson’s second sentence comes to me: ‘even better than that is when Jesus clings to me.’

Philippe de Lachapelle

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