After going to the European Meeting in Strasbourg, I knew I had to go to Taizé community. I spent my last week in France there and I could not be happier that I did. I came home with a heart filled with love and the grace of God.
What is Taizé? It’s an ecumenical order of monks who take their name from the village the community is located within. Brothers are of all different Christian denominations. They promote Christian unity, peace between all people, and have missions in poor communities throughout the world where they live in solidarity with the people. Anyone is invited to stay in the community and share in the simple community life. One week from Sunday-Sunday is the typical length of a stay and the community is open almost year-round. Perhaps this quote of the founder, Brother Roger, taken from the Taizé website describes it best:
“Since my youth, I think that I have never lost the intuition that community life could be a sign that God is love, and love alone. Gradually the conviction took shape in me that it was essential to create a community with men determined to give their whole life and who would always try to understand one another and be reconciled, a community where kindness of heart and simplicity would be at the centre of everything.”
Brother Roger: “God is love alone”
I had the privilege of visiting Brother Roger’s room and learning more about his history (thank you Bobby for asking if I could join the Princeton Seminary group and thank you Brother Emile for obliging!). Brother Roger settled in Taizé at the beginning of WWII with a vision of peace and unity through reconciliation. Reconciliation for Brother Roger meant more than just forgiveness, also essential to him. It meant reconciling one’s beliefs in order to create unity. I do not pretend to be an expert on his vision and Brother Roger was often misunderstood, so he dedicated his life to trying to understand others. With the help of his sister, he provided refuge for people during the war. After the war, his sister helped to raise 17 war orphans, many of whom still live in the surrounding villages. Brother Roger was joined by more young men who shared his vision, and the community still thrives today. Brother Roger’s room is orange, perhaps his favorite color, and he used it to color the church in the community. Brother Roger felt that a community should be warm and inviting. Throughout history, the brothers have always been delegates of peace, sending brothers and volunteers to suffering areas of the world. While they have mainly played a background role, I personally hope for the community to gain better recognition so it may further shine as an example of peace for divided peoples. Taizé has great potential when it comes to building peace in the world.
A typical day at Taizé consists of prayer three times a day with a time of silence. There is a bible study for those 19 and younger, 20-29, and 30+. In the afternoon, there are optional workshops. While I was at Taizé, a group from Transylvania did a workshop on theater for social inclusion and a group from Ukraine talked about their hopes for their country. Each person has a job; preparing food, distributing the meals, welcoming new arrivals, cleaning toilets, etc. I cleaned up after lunch, and then since I stayed an atypical Monday-Monday, I welcomed new arrivals in French and English on Sunday. There is the option to spend the week in silence for those who wish to do so. After evening prayer, many people gather to socialize at Oyak, the community café. Fridays, people are invited to pray around the Taizé cross.
Right after Christmas until right after New Year, the brothers and long stay volunteers organize the European Meeting, a Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth, in a European city. The brothers also organize Pilgrimages of Trust in other parts of the world. They have even sent brothers to North Korea and have ties with the North Korean Red Cross.
What is it about Taizé that brings so many young people under 30 (not to mention above 30) to rural France? The love in the community is tangible. You can feel God’s presence during the songs in the times of prayer, songs which come from the heart. You meet and befriend people from all over the world. It is incredible the bonds one can form in the span of a week. Perhaps it is the simplicity one finds. There is no wifi. Use of electronics is highly discouraged. Interacting with those around you is natural. Whatever it is that draws so many different people to Taizé, I can attest that it is strong and beautiful.