I have taken much too long in writing this about our experience at Taize…
We spent three very different weeks at Taize, an ecumenical Christian community in Burgundy, France. Our arrival was a shock to my system. I had expected something like our experience at Iona, where there were limited numbers of people, quiet, and a relaxed and open schedule.
We arrived at Taize on a warm Sunday afternoon, along with three thousand other people from around the world. It was noisy, the mood was somewhere between excited and panicked, and we were told upon arriving that we were expected to attend everything that was offered.
Soon we found out that we didn’t fit into the “normal” pilgrim categories. People over 30 are only allowed to stay for one week at a time, and are housed in a different part of the property. They eat separately from those under 30, and their general programming is separate as well, except for daily prayer. Though neither of us is 30 or over, but we are married, and married people are not put in the under-30’s housing.
We talked with four or five people in two different places and showed an email that told us we would receive a two-person tent to all of them – to generally confused looks. We finally found the right place and someone who understood the situation at the third place we went to. We were to participate in under-30 programming and meals, but live with the over-30s.
The week was good. We met three times a day for prayer services. Before breakfast, we gathered in the chapel (read: large, sprawling church) and sang Taize-style songs (repetitive chants), heard a reading, and spent time in silence. Before lunch, we gathered again for a shorter period of singing and silence. Before bed, again we came together and sang, as well as joining in silence and prayer. In addition to worship we had small groups, Bible Introduction, meals, and workshops.
Taize’s style of singing is very different than the normal singing done in churches today. We sang songs in a dozen different languages (maybe even more), and they were all very short with simple melodies. They are sung repetitively – ten, twenty, thirty or more times. The whole idea is that after a while you have the song memorized, and can pray while singing. And then when you leave the community, you still can sing the songs, with or without music. It is an amazing way to worship, especially in the Taize community where there are sometimes three or four or five or six thousand people all singing together.
The second week Katie and I spent in silence. She was in a house for women in the village of Aumegny, just north of the community, and I was just south of the community in a silence house for men. I was told at the beginning of the week that the outer silence is kept to create an inner silence. We were to not talk, motion, or gesture to people as much as possible. In our house, this was strictly kept. When encountering people outside of the house who need help or say “bonjour” as you walk along, it was ok to speak. I talked with Katie, too, away from the house – so my week was not entirely silent, but a very large portion of it was.
I was able to reflect, during that week, on the last year. I thought of the amazing numbers of people who made the year happen; my wonderful wife who stuck by my side even when things were difficult; pastors and churches who took us in; and all the pilots, drivers, flight attendants, people who fund the Fellowship, and so many people I can’t even think of. I thought about the year to come – moving to Montana, being ordained, starting out in my first call, in my first house with Katie. Sometimes it is crazy to think about how much has happened in the last year, and it was a great way to coalesce this past year of life and think toward the future one, one which will no doubt be just as full in different ways.
This was by far my favorite week. I asked one brother one day how to create this kind of peace and silence in daily life. He said that it is clearly a struggle, but that someone once told him that the key is to find something beautiful every day.
Whether it is a tree, or a sunset, or a person, conversation, a movie, a whatever – the key to finding peace in the midst of a busy world is to find and notice something beautiful every day.
Our last week was a very special week in the life of Taize. It was a completion of a three-year “Journey toward a New Solidarity”, a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the community, 100th birthday of Brother Roger, it’s founder, and 10 years since his death.
The Journey toward a New Solidarity has brought the brothers to many different places in the world, leading gatherings of young people seeking a new unity in the world and within Christianity. One of the key ideas has been how can we be people and Christians working and living together and for one another? I went to one of these gatherings back in 2013 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
There were over 100 workshops to go to throughout the week, on topics such as he Church, the environment, social justice, music, and art. As usual there were thrice daily prayer services complete with Taize singing.
This week we spent with a host family in the town of Berze-la-Ville. The host couple is a true example of God’s love. We spent many hours that week with eight others from Taize – one from Britain, one from Poland, two from Italy, and four from Germany. It was a wonderful time – we were well taken care of, and by the end of the week, we had become family with yet more people along this journey. One of my favorite parts was hiking to the top of a high hill with Philippe and Marie, and Philippe pointing out in the distance a vineyard – a vineyard whose wine we tasted just a few hours later.
Taize is a great place, has a wonderful style of worship, and is working hard to make young people feel needed and important in the Church. All I have heard about Taize before I arrived was positive, as though it was heaven on earth. And I feel to speak the truth about that place, I must also say that it was not an easy experience to be there. It was not very accommodating for people with food allergies. For all the talk about being good stewards of the environment, there was an incredible amount of waste at meals in terms of plastic and metal packaging. And while many of the brothers we encountered (there are nearly 100) were very kind, some that we met were rude to the pilgrims who came. It is a good and inspiring place – but not perfect as had been described to me.
After Taize we spent a couple of days each in Rome, Florence, and Venice, before transiting through Milan and back to Paris for a day. We saw many fantastic sights – the Sistine Chapel, Colosseum, Trajan’s Forum, Pontivecchio, Grand Canal, Il Duomo (in Florence and Milan), St. Mark’s Cathedral, and Sacre-Coeur.
Finally we left Paris and spent the night in the Keflavik (Iceland) airport. While many flights get in late and night and the connecting ones leave the next day, there is no sleeping allowed in the airport. There are guards who come around and yell at people who are sleeping, insisting that they awaken and sit up. No lying down, and no sleeping. On top of that, there is no camping nor cooking over and open flame (not sure who tried that one in an airport…).
Finally we made it home, very tired after a long night! There are countless stories to tell – too many for this post. I would love to tell you more – please ask me whenever you have the chance.