The Taizé adventure started Tuesday morning as I hauled two tents, three foam matresses (matelats), a sleeping bag, my winter coat, a small rolling suitcase, and my backpack (lunch, journal, medicine) about six blocks. In one trip. I am so cool. And was also exhausted when I got there.
Taizé is a small village in south central France. In the 1940's Brother Roger founded the monastery as a place to pray and worship with a specific focus on understanding differences in culture. The message veered towards becoming a welcoming place for young people not long after. The monastery sits on top of Taizé hill and includes a number of buildings of various ages and a large camping ground. The slopes of the hill are either covered in pastures, the workshops, or walking paths. There are gardens, fields, and a natural source all reserved as "silent places" for reflection and prayer.
The first important thing to note about the community is that it is inter-denominational. I always thought that monasteries were Catholic, but this one has people from a multitude of religious sects. The next thing is the fashion of prayer. Prayer is done in song, reading of psalms and the gospel, and silence. Community prayer, such as recitations, are not included as a practice - that is taken care of in the songs. The songs are between 3 and 10 stanzas each and are repeated multiple times. Songs are usually made to be sung in at least three or four languages and there are over 27 languages represented in the everyday song book including Thai, Swahili, Korean, Swedish, Russian, Greek (old and new), and then almost anything else you can think of.
A day in Taizé is pretty simple. There is morning mass at 7:15 for the Catholics who want to go. Morning prayer is held at 8:15. Breakfast is served immediately afterwards and consists of a mini-baguette (about the size of 2 rolls pushed together) and a bowl of hot chocolate or tea and a small stick of chocolate. An introduction session on the theme of your choice starts at 10 and is led by a brother. Afterwards, you have about an hour to kind of chill out and do whatever before the 12:15 midday prayer.
Prayer is followed by lunch (more about meals later). At 2pm there is the repetition of songs (this is kind of like a mass chorus of people learning the voice parts to the songs). At 3:30 there are small breakout group discussions from the morning group. At five there is snack (a bowl of strange iced tea and a slice of fruit or spiced bread. At 5:45 there are themed workshops which change every day. 7 o'clock is dinner and then 8:15 is evening prayer again. Afterwards, everything is supposed to be silent, except for Oyak, a little area covered with some pavillions and outside umbrella tables where you can buy ice cream or drinks and such. They have competitions between the pavilions to see which ones can create the most noise, it is fantastic.
If you want to volunteer, you would have a different daily set-up without as much time in big and small groups dicussions so you could do your "work." Work is everything from cleaning up to watching kids, to shushing people in the church to replacing used candles. You can also work the buffet lines, which feed about 4,000 people in 30 minutes. I used to wait in a line of 10 for 15 minutes, so talk about fast service.
Lodging is either in tents, tent style cabins, or actual barracks. We slept in tents. This was fun, except that it was about 40°F at night. In general, this wouldn't be bad, except it was about 85° during the day so you were going through drastic changes in temperature all the time. It was especially bad when you had gotten a sunburn, because your skin was burning up and the rest of you was freezing cold. The bathrooms had interesting water troubles - meaning that the shower didn't know how to stay warm. But, they were clean and usually available, which was really good.
Lunch and dinner were quite interesting. You get a tray with a plate on it (like a stew plate), a ladel full of something, a nugget or cold cut slice of meat, a piece of cheese or spreadable cheese, a slice or two of bread, a piece of fresh fruit, two cracker like cookies, and a bowl. The bowl is used in place of a cup. At first, you don't think you are going to be full at all, but it is enough food to get you through until the next meal, and then after that it is enough food to get you to the meal after. The only bad thing is if they serve something you don't like - like peas for example and cooked carrots (the meal the first night) - but in the end you either eat it or trade around. So, anytime they gave us yogurt, I just traded it for fruit from someone else and ate that instead. It works pretty well.
Inside the church there are no chairs, everyone sits on the floor. There are few decorations and the walls have all been sponge-painted. There are walkways marked out in duct tape and benches for those who need them around the edges. It was originally pretty small, and they have expanded it now to hold about 3-4,000 people. If they all don't fit, there is a tent on the side where the extra people can go. The brothers sit in the middle front, and we are led in song by a keyboard set to guitar sound (it is not at all obvious it is a keyboard until after you go up to the very front). Everything is read and sung in different languages. This past week about 3 or the 4 thousand people were German, so instead of everything being done in at least English and French it was done in a rotation of the three. But it certainly wasn't limited to that. One evening, after the prayer Brother Alois talked and they did simultaneous translation into 6 languages and then had recorded translation in two other languages.
And while we are talking about after service specials, Friday evening, there is adoration of the cross - even if it isn't Good Friday. In our case, it was Orthodox Good Friday so it was still very important. One Saturday, they celebrate the resurrection of Christ - every Saturday throughout the year. They do this by having the children use lit candles to light the candles of the people around them. Then the light spreads throughout the church. Christ's light comes to you from the hands of children through the hands of others. It is a fabulous symbol. And the church lights up like it was still midday service. It is so incredible.
OKay that is the basic format and technicalities of the experience. Read the other Taizé blog for more information about my personal experience there and all the gooey ooey stuff that I usually write about. Love always, ~Heather