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Thoughts on worship, congregational song
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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Postcards from Worship: Taizé Community, France


The first phrase washed over me like a wave, and in response tears sprang to my eyes. Here was a song I had sung hundreds of times, in many different places. Now, in the company of hundreds of strangers – my brothers and sisters in Christ – the singing of this simple, plaintive appeal felt like a homecoming.

Jesus, remember me
when you come into your kingdom.

*

“Welcome to Taizé. Would you like some tea?”

I had travelled with my husband from London, UK, our home for this past year, through Portugal and Spain to the Burgundy region of France. We took the opportunity while travelling to make the journey to the ecumenical community of Taizé, to spend the weekend in prayer, song and silence amid the hills of the French countryside. We doubled up our hoodies and slept in a tent in the cool March air. When we arrived, we were welcomed by a young woman from Germany who was conducting orientation meetings in German, English or French as necessary. As we sipped cool sweet tea from a camp cup, I took in the low wooden buildings and welcoming faces of the community which has shaped and fed my music ministry and worship life for as long as I can remember.

We quickly fell into the rhythm of life in the community, aided by the serene presence of the Taizé brothers and the friendliness of our fellow participants. When I had the chance, I slipped into Exposition, the shop where the brothers sell their artisanal products for the benefit of the community. I bought a small enamel cross, symbol of the community. I chose a deep flame red colour, as Taizé has always been for me a symbol of Pentecost. This perception was confirmed during our time there, particularly during a workshop on the story of the Prodigal Son given in German by a Chinese brother. A volunteer sat in the corner with those of us who were English speaking and translated from German as the talk went along.  Midway, it emerged there was a small group of French people present. A Belgian participant sat with them behind me and translated from German into French for their benefit. As the languages swirled around me, bringing new layers of meaning to a story I have known all my life, I felt as if I was one of the Parthians, Medes or Elamites, receiving God’s word in my own language - I was amazed, and only a little perplexed. Is that the rush of a mighty wind I hear? No, probably just the lunch line forming.

“Welcome, this is the English discussion group on the Holy Trinity. Do you speak English?”


“Yes.”

“Real English? Or Taizé English?”



*


For a city girl like myself, someone who rushes from one thing to the next with a coffee in my hand and three bags slung from my pleading shoulders, worship at Taizé might be likened to a liturgical therapy session. Or maybe a kind of juice cleanse for the soul. I certainly received this worship, each day three times a day, like a thirsty pilgrim. Kneeling on the floor, surrounded by hundreds of worshippers – from diverse countries but particularly from Germany, as it happened that week – I watched each day as the Taizé brothers entered the central portion of the long worship space in reverent silence. We sang Taizé chants from the current song book, listened to a brother read scripture in two or three languages, intoned Psalms, and sat, hundreds upon hundreds of us, in prayerful silence. In the dim light of the Church of Reconciliation, bathed in the warm orange light of flickering candles and the ecumenical altar’s soaring fabric flames, the alternation of songs joyfully offered and silence poignantly kept worked its healing on my soul. I felt able to enter more deeply into worship than I have in a long time.

Jesus, remember me
when you come into your kingdom.

It was on Good Friday night that we first sang these words that had such an effect on me. This is probably the first Taizé chant I had ever learned. It is also the first time I remember, as a child, having connected a song we sing in church to scripture. “This is what the thief says to Jesus on the cross,” I remember saying to my parents. How many wisps of scripture, internalized through song, had worked their way into the hearts of the worshippers gathered there with me? Which ones had most significant meaning for them? As I sang the chant in the place where it was written, tears rolling down my face, I was reminded of what makes it so powerful for me: the vulnerability of a sinner asking Jesus for forgiveness, while acknowledging, in Jesus’ own moment of greatest helplessness, his status as ruler of an immortal nation. On Friday evenings, the Taizé cross is laid down flat in the central portion of the assembly. I knelt in prayer with my forehead on the cross and gave thanks for moments of vulnerability.

I am sure each week of singing at Taizé is characterized by the particular favourites of the people gathered there. We sang many German chants over the course of the weekend, but one in particular was a clear favourite of the young people there:

Gott, laß meine Gedanken sich sammeln zu dir...
ich verstehe deine Wege nicht,
aber du weißt den Weg für mich.

God, gather and turn my thoughts to you...
I do not understand your ways,
but you know the way for me.



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