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Summer In The Forest: All Things Beautiful In Their Time

Author: Rachel Mannix

Picture: Damaris Media

Summer In The Forest: All Things Beautiful In Their Time

Rachel Mannix is moved by "Summer In the Forest", an inspirational film about Jean Vanier's L'Arche communities.

As a student returning to my home parish, I have often felt dislocated from the predominantly elderly congregation.

However, I am amazed every time, that without engaging in conversation, after sharing together in Mass I always feel so much more connected to the people when I leave compared to when I arrived.

This spiritual grace of communion is one of the things that has kept me coming back to church when my faith has wavered.

The experience of watching Summer in the Forest had that same effect of connecting me with the people in the room.

Although a film viewing is arguably a passive event, we were all entering into the same encounter, and were drawn into an indescribable, yet tangible, unity with one another.

I don’t think this was simply down to all being in the same place fixing our eyes on one screen. Like the Mass, it has to do with the content. Here is a trailer for the film:

 

A Gentle Giant

L’Arche communities, it seems, feel the same way in their encounters with Jean Vanier.

One resident explains that they can all tell that founder Jean Vanier loves them, because his words are sincere and his heart is pure.

Jean Vanier reminds me of the BFG; loving, gentle, kind, and full of child-like wonder. He even has the stature of this loveable giant as he crouches to meet the faces of the people he lives with, looking into their eyes and telling them with awe they are beautiful.

These small moments are like seeing the Father heart of God and are immensely humbling.

The overwhelming sense I had in watching Summer in the Forest is the ordinariness of the lives being lived in the community.

It is not an epic saga of the downtrodden being redeemed by a Christ-like figure. In fact, Vanier features very little comparatively.

A Lifelong Commitment

The stories of the residents seem to unwind gradually, rather than being unfurled with an urgent flourish.

The meditative instrumental soundtrack, coupled with the way the filming moves slowly from frame to frame, gives echoes of French cinema, hinting, perhaps, at the influence of French culture on L’Arche and Vanier.

All these elements together paint a picture of the lifelong commitment these people have made to one another.

Although this is an obvious message, it is also counter-cultural; we always tend to look for a quick fix and immediate answers. However, the philosophy of L’Arche, and of Jesus, is that love is a continual journey.

It takes patience, perseverance and means walking with people over extended periods of time. After all, Moses and the Israelites wandered together in the desert for forty years.

Real Life

It is about building community not only in joy, silliness and laughter, but also in the pain and frustration. Summer in the Forest teaches us the importance of accepting people as they are, as God sees them, rather than trying to challenge people to become the people we would prefer them to be.

Although L’Arche is remarkable and inspiring, what is significant is that this is real life. It is not a rose-tinted, idealised and specialised pocket of holiness, but rather a vision for how we could realistically and tangibly live and love together.

It is difficult to convey exactly what you will take from watching Summer in the Forest or how to anticipate the ways it will change you.

Like any encounter with God, if you approach with open hands and open heart you will leave a different person from the one that went in. 

  • A companion booklet from Damaris can be found here  
  • Cinema screenings are listed on the film's official site- http://www.summerintheforest.com -where the film is also available to download.

 

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