Sunday, August 13, 2006

Taizé for the Generations

I broke my fast last week . . .

I returned to a Catholic place of worship. St. James Cathedral, at the end of Capitol Hill.

There was no mass last Friday, though. I ventured to St. James for Taizé. Asking what exactly that is leads to exciting questions for those of us with an ecumenical--or universalist, choose your poison (as some might say in fundamentalist circles)--bent.

Taizé : two very short syllables, curt almost, that snap out without lingering. Like a punctuation in sound. A name to condense things essential, to draw together the inexpressible. Taizé to be silent in, Taizé to speak to yourself in. Taize to come to, by thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, over nearly two thirds of a century. Taizé to set out from, charged with the invisible. Taizé for the generations.
"Taizé, always" by Bruno Frappat

Ah, what a goal for a pilgrim! Taizé, first of all, is a village in France. It is the place where Brother Roger began to form a community of humble Christians in the 1940s.

With a significant amount of searching I haven't found much information on Brother Roger's life prior to the inception of the Taizé community. I think this might be as he would have wanted it (he was killed during evening prayers in 2005 by a woman with a knife). There are hundreds of men who make up the brotherhood and they come from a myriad of Christian backgrounds. The point is not difference, but communion. The community was founded on the idea that Christans can live simple, meaningful lives that emphasize goodness above all else. This is how philosopher Paul Ricouer saw it.

If religion, if religions have a meaning, it is to liberate that core of goodness in human beings, to go looking for it where it has been completely buried. Now here in Taizé I see goodness breaking through, in the community life of the brothers, in their calm and discreet hospitality, and in the prayer. I see thousands of young people who do not express a conceptual articulation of good and evil, of God, of grace, of Jesus Christ, but who have a fundamental tropism towards goodness.

I write about the ideal, central nature of Taizé because what I experienced last week was a less hopeful version. My response was lukewarm--not to the cathedral, which was grand and humbling--but to the depth of the prayer service. Ultimately Taizé strives for a profundity that I cherish but did not taste last weekend. There were moments, within the songs, that caused something to well up inside of me, but this was shortlived, without the monumental build they seemed to be working at. Of the elements of the Taizé service that have been borrowed by countless churches around the world, music is probably the most tangible and affecting. The community in France has developed a method of songwriting that utilizes the quiet intensity of Latinate chants and the intimate lyricism of contemporary worship. I was looking for this on Friday, but I found a lukewarm congregation that couldn't quite enliven the text with their hearts. It's a lot to ask, I know--many Christians get by with lip-synching during their times of worship. However, something is lost without full investment when the whole service is based on their voices.

Maybe it's just my old Catholic grudges plaguing my judgement--what am I judging for anyway? One of the reasons I stopped going to church was because I felt there was no passion in the congregation. I looked around and saw lips reciting memorized lines in a tired play. No audience would be roused by those voices, not me and not God. But it's not my station to judge. There's no room for this zealotry on my pilgrimage. As my friend from Skagit puts it, we're all after "life-giving" experiences, and that search is what I need to focus on.

That's what Taizé was founded on.


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