There’s very little in the world that I love more than the sound of human voices joined in song. And of all the sacred music ever composed, the simple, melodic chants of Taizé touch me in a way that no other ever has. So this year, to begin Lent at Corpus Christi Center of Peace, we offered “Come Away & Pray: A Weekend Retreat in the Spirit & Style of the Taizé Community.” And what a blessing it was!
Taizé Community is an ecumenical monastic community in France of about 100 brothers from over 30 countries that wants its life to be a sign of reconciliation between divided Christians and between separated peoples. Each summer tens of thousands of young people make pilgrimage to Taizé for a week of living in and with the community. The prayer of Taizé is known especially for its simple yet beautiful chants, the proclamation of Sacred Scripture and extended periods of silent meditation.
We used the daily schedule of Taizé as the basis for the retreat which included Morning, Mid-Day, Evening and Night Prayer, reflection on Scripture and service to the community all interspersed with periods of silence. But the greatest gift to me was singing the chants: “Be Merciful as God has Mercy,” (the official hymn for the Jubilee of Mercy), “Nothing Can Trouble,” “Bless the Lord, My Soul,” “The Lord is My Light,” “Nunc Dimittis.” One after another the ethereal melodies and lush harmonies took me deeper into the Mystery of God’s boundless and everlasting love and mercy, and my heart and soul were filled to overflowing! Now I understand more fully the wisdom of regular communal prayer and how it has the power to move us out of ourselves toward others in love.
Part of the daily schedule – and expectation – for pilgrims at Taizé is that they work toward the “upkeep” of the place. They are asked to do such things as prepare food, clean common living areas, etc. During our short Taizé “pilgrimage,” our pilgrims were asked to “work” at preparing sack lunches for the residents of Friends of the Homeless. It was in this spirit, and believing that “laborare est orare” (“to work is to pray”), that each person was asked to bring something for the sack lunches which were prepared together on Saturday afternoon. This task was entered into with unbounded joy and laughter set against a backdrop of recorded Taizé chants. It was a labor of love to spread the peanut butter, bag the cookies and vegetables, and put everything together in the paper sacks. It felt as if all of what we were experiencing in prayer together was poured into each lunch and shared with people we’ll never know. This is how the reign of God becomes reality!
Lent is a whole new experience for me this year – no gloomy face here. Having entered into the season floating on the wings of chant and silence, I am living proof of the truth of the following words from Brother Roger, the founder of Taizé Community:
“From the depths of the human condition a secret aspiration rises up. Caught in the anonymous rhythms of schedules and timetables, men and women of today are implicitly thirsting for an essential reality, for an inner life. Nothing is more conducive to a communion with the living God than a meditative common prayer with, as its high point, singing that never ends and that continues in the silence of one’s heart when one is alone again.”
– Brother Roger