“‘I leave you peace; I give you my peace.’ What is this leave that God gives? It is first of all an inner peace, a peace of the heart. This peace enables us to look at the world with hope, even though it is often torn apart by violence and conflicts. This peace from God also supports us so that we can contribute, quite humbly, to building peace in those places where it is jeopardized… If only everyone realized that God remains alongside us even in the fathomless depths of our loneliness. God says to each person, ‘You are precious in my sight, I treasure you and I love you.’ Yes, all God can do is give his love; that sums up the whole of the Gospel.”
-Brother Roger Schütz (August 16, 2015)-
At the heart of Taizé there is love… At the heart of Taizé there is the Spirit of God… At the heart of Taizé there is a genuine community and peace… The community of Taizé was first started by Brother Roger in 1940. Ministering to the poor and marginalized, Brother Roger would not be able to return to Taizé till after the liberation of France in World War II. Since then the community at Taizé has grown in size and has attracted a significant number of young people who make frequent pilgrimages to the French countryside. But what makes Taizé so attractive to young people? What causes thousands and thousands of youth to gather together each year? If you asked those in attendance they would probably make some initial remarks like, “The countryside is beautiful,” or “I get to meet a lot of new people.” But if you dig a little deeper you’ll find that young people have a lot more to say, “I want to listen for God’s voice in my life,” “It is a community of trust and faith,” “I can be who I really am,” and “God is here at Taizé.”
A Place of Healing
I was exhausted… A red eye flight to Paris was not what I needed at the moment when we arrived and found that labor strikes caused us to not make the train we had originally planned on taking to Taizé. My mind was on overload as I thought about our options, and which one would be best for the group that I had brought. I’ll say now that nothing in my life so far had prepared me to drive through the Paris and French countryside. As we loaded our things into the van I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next… “I thought I planned for every situation, how could this happen?” Not once did I ever take a moment to pray and be reminded of ever continuing presence of God. But even though I didn’t take the time, God was still there as all of us wearily made our way on a four hour drive to Taizé.
When we arrived, we were all beat… We were ready for a shower, a bed, and sleep. But by the time we arrived at Taizé it was evening prayer. So we made our way into the Church of Reconciliation trying to keep our eyes from falling shut for the night. There was a wave of peace that hit me when the first song began… There was a feeling of serenity and a feeling that everything was going to be okay. And as we left, we all went knowing that tomorrow would be a new day and the start of our time in a very special place. Throughout the course of our time at Taizé it was a blessing to hear my youth talk about things that they have never talked about before. It was a time to be who they really were and not to worry about judgements others might have about them. It was liberating, it was cathartic, it was healing of the body, soul and mind. Of course I won’t share what they said, but I will say that I was proud to see how faith became alive to them by participating in a community that worked, ate, and prayed together.
Finding God in Silence
After one of the prayer service one of the young people who was with me made the commonest of, “I wish they told you what to pray about or meditate on,” was one of the comments I heard after our initial prayer service. However, by the end of our time at Taizé their story changed, “I just got so into it… It was time for silent meditation that I never seemed to have time for in my life.” It’s true, the Brothers of Taizé don’t tell you how to pray or how to meditate… Typically, there is a passage of Scripture that is read, but the time in silence is meant for you to connect with God. When we think of silence in church we often think about the short amount of time that is dedicated for a silent prayer of confession, but the silence at Taizé is much longer. Just long enough to make you feel like it is an uncomfortable amount of silence, but yet also the right amount to feel as though you were fed by your time with God.
The first couple of prayer services were hard, yet as time went on the youth began to settle into the rhythm of silence. We’re constantly being bombarded with information. We have to keep up with the latest fashion trends, texts from friends, gossip that goes on at school or other places, and at the end of the day we find that we have not left any meaningful amount of time left to spend with God. I don’t think God wants the few minutes we have before we go to bed with thought after thought buzzing around our head. I think that God would prefer is we were a little more intentionally about the time that we spend in communicating with God. And for youth who are in an ever fast paced world, this time of purposeful silence provided a shelter from the noises of life. We often short change youth and their ability to participate in spiritual practices, but maybe that is because we as the church are not always willing to sit with the uncomfortable, joyous, and challenging moments of silence that God desires us to pursue.
It wouldn’t seem right to write a reflection about Taizé and not include aspects of the community. Taizé might be one of the few places where one can have a conversation in a language that is neither preferred or commonly used… During my stay I met a Korean-French pastor who didn’t speak any English. However, we soon discovered that we both spoke Korean, and so we were able to talk with one another, even though the both of us didn’t think we had a way of communicating with one another. Taizé might be compared to that first ever celebration of Pentecost. There are numerous languages being spoken, not all of which are understood, but yet the Spirit of God has been present and willing to provide a way for the body of Christ to come together in fellowship with one another in worship and in life.
When we arrived at Taizé we soon realized that there were not many English speakers… The majority of people in attendance either spoke French or German. I worried that this might have a negative impact on the youth’s experience of Taizé, but when I asked them what they thought they responded by telling me that they preferred that most of the people did not speak English as their native language. We often talk about language barriers, but perhaps in this situation the differences in language meant they each person had to listen more carefully to what the other was saying. Instead of thinking what they would say next, they had to sit with the words of the other person and take into consideration how each word was crafted and chosen for its particular meaning. Maybe in this case Taizé broke down the concept of a language barrier and used it to build authentic relationships.
Show me a place in the United States where thousands of youth gather to participate in such a way of life that is presently at Taizé. There were many young people who had come to Taizé multiple times when we were there and each of them treasured the sacred space that the community at Taizé provided them. The Brothers of Taizé were not interested in converting or putting on a flashy show… Those in attendance were there to seek God in their own lives and to see it in the lives of others. Show me a place in the United States that is like Taizé and I would gladly go, but for the youth and myself who went this will be an experience that words can never fully describe. I doubt that the youth who went will have the words to fully articulate what they experienced (I have a Masters Degree and cannot fully articulate our experience), but when they look and remember their time at Taizé they will remember that they were loved by others for who they were, they will remember that they were loved by God, and they will know that Taizé is a place that they might someday wish to visit again.