This month I’m continuing to share stories of my own journeys (read my accounts of London here and Uganda here), and this week I’m excited to tell you about my experience last fall at the Taizé Community in France and to give you a look inside Taizé with an interview with a gracious member of the Community I met while there, Brother Emile.
I first learned about the Taizé Community while at The Seattle School – in fact, it was during the short period I spent debating whether or not to change my course to Theology and Culture and pursue studying pilgrimage (which, as we all know now, I did!). As I was talking to Molly Kenzler – our front desk attendant and so much more – about pilgrimage and the decision ahead of me, she mentioned the Taizé Community and their music which has become so popular.
I looked up the community immediately and fell in love from the start. I admired the communal and contemplative nature of their practice and was invited into a new way of prayer and worship through their music. Singing their chants left me transported – centering me, bringing me peace, and thus opening me up to the Sacred. I’ve been known to describe it as the perfect combination of the contemplative and charismatic – the words simple and liturgical in nature, with the repetition making space for the Sacred Guide to enter.
Because I first learned of the Taizé Community from my discussion about pilgrimage with Molly, I always considered it a pilgrimage destination, and it was a journey I looked forward to someday taking. I wasn’t alone in my thinking – when I first began my research on pilgrimage, I found that in his book, Pilgrimage: A Spiritual and Cultural Journey, Ian Bradley considered it an important pilgrimage destination too, not unlike the tens of thousands of young people who continue to visit the Community each summer, often leaving the noise and distraction of their secular environments in search for meaning found in silence, prayer, and intentional community.
My husband and I were able to visit the community late in the season, in early November last year. The environment was quiet in comparison to the bustling summer months, with only a few hundred visitors at the time we were there, but the experience was everything I hoped it would be and more.
What I valued most about our time there, apart from meeting seekers and pilgrims from all over Europe and beyond, was how the brothers invited visitors to participate in their practice and rule of life. The Taizé Community ministers particularly to young adults, and while many elements definitely felt like summer camp, including the meal times, the meetings, and the dormitories, the times of worship and prayer were far different from my experiences attending and working at summer camp growing up.
Instead of trying to facilitate an experience with bright lights and catchy songs, the brothers invite visitors into their own experience – a rhythmic practice of chants, reading, and silence in languages found across the globe. They didn’t explain what was going on or how to participate, apart from a board that displayed which song was to be sung next. And certainly there were some giggles and distractions the first few days from teenagers who had never experienced anything like this before.
But by the end of our time there, these same teenagers were the ones who learned to cherish the silence and lingered for the prayers far long after the last brother had taken his leave. I found myself slowing down and doing the same – the stillness and repetition allowing me to settle deeply into my soul, inviting me into a communion with the Divine that is always available to me, no synthesizer needed.
“The stillness and repetition allow[ed] me to settle deeply into my soul,
inviting me into a communion with the Divine that is always available to me…”
I look forward to returning to the Taizé Community someday soon and burrowing deeper into that holy solitude through spending a week there in silence. Until then, I have the music of Taizé to guide me, and my experience to remind me of the Divine’s pervasive presence when I leave all that distracts behind and simply become still, allowing my soul to return home, where the True Self and the Divine meet.
Watch the video below to listen to my favorite Taizé song, “Within Our Darkest Night”
(song starts at after a minute or so)
MY INTERVIEW WITH BROTHER EMILE
While visiting the Taizé Community, we were able to meet a French-Canadian brother there, Brother Emile. Brother Emile has been following A Sacred Journey, and so I knew that when it came time to share about Taizé, I wanted to involve him as well. Read my interview with him below, where he talks about the background of the community, as well as his own experience there, and explains more about Taizé’s “Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth.”
Could you give a brief introduction of the Taizé Community for readers who have never heard of it before?
Taizé is first of all the name of tiny village in Burgundy where Brother Roger, the founder of our community, settled in 1940. Today it is an ecumenical community of one hundred brothers from many different countries and various Christian denominations.
Quite unexpectedly, starting in the mid-sixties, Taizé became a place of pilgrimage for young adults from all over the world. A hundred thousand young adults spend a week at Taizé each year. They come to pray, to search for God and to search for a deeper meaning to their lives.
Over the years, we had to develop a way of praying with people from so many countries, traditions and languages. That is how the Taizé songs developed: short meditative songs with texts for Scripture or from the Christian tradition. Quite to our surprise the songs spread all over the world.
How did you become involved in the Taizé Community, and how long have you been there now?
I first heard of Taizé in Canada in 1974 in my small hometown in Northern Ontario where there was not much to interest young people in Christianity. Someone who had been to Taizé put together a weekend to which I was invited. It led me to re-discover the Christian faith that had been part of my childhood but that I had abandoned as a young teenager. That year I went to Taizé for a week and returned in 1975 for a full year as volonteer. The question of vocation arose during that time and I entered the community in 1976. I have been there ever since.
What practices are a part of the Rule of Life at Taizé?
The Rule of Taizé is a very slim book. It’s not a book of rules, but it expresses what Brother Roger’s vision of community life was about. At a young age, Brother Roger knew that words are not enough. For him, community life was about being a living sign. The Rule of Taizé is really about what it takes to live that sign, to create together.
The community has a monastic essence, so you find in the rule the practices of monastic life: prayer, work, and hospitality, as well as the commitments the brothers make: celibacy, pooling of goods, recognition of the ministry of a prior whose is at the service of unity. I think my favorite part of the Rule is the last line: “Refusing to look back,and joyful with infinite gratitude, never fear to rise to meet the dawn praising, blessing and singing Christ your Lord.”
What is the Taizé Community’s “Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth,” and why did the Community choose the term “pilgrimage” to describe these meetings?
From the start, it was clear to the brothers that Taizé would never become a “movement” with members. Those who have spent a week at Taizé are always encouraged to return home to their own faith communities. However we noticed in the seventies that for many people this was an abstract message: they had no experience of church as a place of hope and community. That’s when the idea of the pilgrimage of trust emerged.
We began organizing large gatherings of young adults (our last gathering, the thirty-fifth of its kind, took place in Rome at the end of 2012 brought together forty thousand participants from all over the world) in various cities of the world. In Europe these gatherings always take place after Christmas and last for about five days. To a degree they follow the pattern of life at Taizé: prayer together morning, midday and evening, reflection and sharing on Scripture, workshops on themes relating to inner life and solidarity.
The difference is that churches of all denominations are involved and that for the workshops we can tap into resources that are available locally, for example people committed in complex urban settings. Our last pilgrimage of trust in the United States took place on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation and brought together six hundred young adults from all over the U. S. and Canada over Memorial Day weekend 2013.
Next year, in March and April, we will have three such gatherings in three cities of Texas: Austin, Dallas and Houston. The words “pilgrimage of trust across the earth” are used to tie together all of these gatherings. The aim of the pilgrimage is to stimulate people to be bearers of trust and reconciliation in the places where they live – to set out in the direction of trust and reconciliation without waiting to receive all the answers, but in the spirit of poverty and trust that are those of every pilgrim.
Finally, what is one of your favorite Taizé songs?
Right now, I’m fond of the song: “Let all who are thirsty come, let all who wish receive the water of life freely.” I love the word freely.
Listen to Brother Emile’s current favorite in the video below
Have you participated in a Taizé style service or visited the Community? Where does the music and the contemplative nature of the Community’s practice take you?