A Place of Love and Community: Some Reflections on Taizé
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Taizé, an international, Christian ecumenical community in central France that is known for its meditative prayers and chants. It was a powerful experience, to say the least. Before visiting, I knew that Taizé was an international destination for pilgrimage, but it wasn’t until actually visiting that I understood why.
Taizé was founded by Brother Roger, who came upon the village of Taizé when he was traveling through France from his home in Switzerland in 1940. Upon arriving in Taizé, Brother Roger was famished from his journey, and was offered a meal and hospitality by a woman who lived in the village. She encouraged Brother Roger to remain there, and he did so, seeing the opportunity to extend the same hospitality he received to others who passed by. He soon raised enough money to purchase a few abandoned buildings, which he used to provide shelter and safety to vulnerable refugees, such as Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. People who knew Brother Roger took interest in his habit of daily prayer, and began to join him. Eventually, after a fair number of people joined Brother Roger’s ministry, he officially established a monastic community in 1949. This small community in a quiet French village eventually became the prominent place for prayer that has been visited by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world.
Taizé still retains its fervent commitment to hospitality and healing divides. This is shown, in part, by the fact that the brothers (members of the monastic community) hail from a variety of Christian denominations and countries. But Taizé’s ecumenical nature is an outcropping of its larger dedication to providing a place for everyone to experience community. It’s no surprise, then, that people of different faiths (or lack thereof) choose to come to Taizé: the atmosphere of love and communion is palpable.
A Place of Prayer
At Taizé, the entire day is punctuated by prayer: the bells ring throughout the tiny community, echoing off the surrounding hills, calling everyone to join for morning, midday, and evening prayer. The prayers are rhythmic, simple, and enchanting. In addition to being beautiful, I found the prayers, and the tone that they set for the community, to be transformative.
At the end of the first day, I was shocked by how relaxed I was. My shoulders were at ease, my breathing was deeper, my pace was slower. The atmosphere of prayer is not contained at the three daily prayer sessions, but reverberates throughout the village, weaving its way into the very ground you walk on. There is an unmistakable serenity at Taizé, fostering an environment where visitors can quietly and ceaselessly celebrate the wonder of existence. While we often tell ourselves that every breath is a gift, Taizé helps that appreciation come to life, encouraging everyone to take comfort in the fact that their value is not tied to their accomplishments or busy schedules. Sometimes the most valuable thing you can do is to be still.
A Community of Love
Brother Roger emphasized the value of truly respecting the beauty of each human being, and communicating Christ through our attentiveness to others:
When the Church is intent on loving and understanding the mystery of every human being, when tirelessly it listens, comforts and heals, it becomes what it is at its most luminous: the crystal-clear reflection of a communion.
Taizé highlights the power of such an open communion. On its face, Taizé would not be a major destination. The food isn’t great, and the lodging is simple. It’s no luxurious getaway, and it doesn’t claim to be. But Taizé is so attractive because it offers what many other places can’t: a place where you can be welcomed, heard, and valued. An environment where you can be still, and sit in the presence of God.
Brother Roger said, “In his Gospel, in a dazzling intuition, Saint John expresses who God is in three words: ‘God is love.’ If we can grasp only those three words, we shall go far, very far.” If you come to Taizé, you are likely to meet fascinating people, hear wonderful stories, and witness firsthand the power of what happens when a community commits itself to nothing other than exploring the truth that God is love.