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Taizé (the experience)

WARNING: Religious ideas to follow, so those disinclined to read about my Christian principles or experiences are encouraged to read Taizé (the basics) or wait for my next blog. Sorry for the possible inconvenience.

I don't have the words I need to explain exactly what happened the five days I was on Taizé hill. I don't think it was necessarily a defining moment in my life where everything will now change because of it. I mean, it isn't like I am going to become a member of a religious order now because I have been transformed. But, I don't think I'll ever be the same again. I think that no one is ever the same as they were after having ANY experience, so the statement would always be true. However, I think I am just outwardly recognizing the change.

For one thing, I understand the gospel of Mark for the very first time. I see it not just for its stories and history but for the little details that make the story. It is the first time I have spent alot of time asking myself questions about a reading. I think I better understand the resurrection now and have viable enough proof to Mary's virginity at the conception of Jesus. I never really blamed Pilate for what happened, but never understood how the crowd could have treated Jesus that way. I don't think I understand that yet. But I am not done trying.

During each of the prayer services everyday there is 7-10 minutes of silence for personal prayer. The first few days I didn't understand this at all. Actually, I found it annoying and even fell asleep once. The third day I started thinking about the part in the gospel where Jesus asks the disciples, "Can you not pass even one hour with me in prayer?" Then I tried to concentrate on my prayer for the whole ten minutes. Yeah, no such luck. So I went to a themed workshop on prayer, where I learned that it isn't necessarily bad that I always get distracted thinking about other things when I am praying - in fact it is pretty normal. Those ideas are valid, but, like yoga, you have to push your mind to concentrate on nothing so you can think about everything. A very strange but calming principle.

Then on one of the last nights, I was waiting to talk with one of the brothers and without even looking at my watch realized that I had just been having a conversation with God for over 45 minutes. It was strange. The next night, I didn't look at my watch either. I realized later I had stayed for an hour and a half after the service. I had spent some time talking to a Brother who comes from Long Island, and alot of time praying for the three girls I was with. They were all crying, each having had a personal issue to deal with - and each realizing the pain of their situation. I prayed with, for, and on them. Yes - this note goes especially to Carl and perhaps even Bloomer (as you were my accomplice in escaping "the hands") - I took the hands of each of the girls one at a time and prayed for them. I don't know why I had to touch them to pray for them, but I felt like I needed to send them my energy - I had to ciphon their pain from them and send them my peace - and direct contact was necessary for that.

There were so many amazing small things, like learning to do the "Frog Dance" from Sweden, and an Irish jig, and clapping hands games and chase games with the Italians and the Spanish, and squatting (Lavencia?) games with the Germans. I taught the Hokie Pokie one night. It sounds stupid, all these late high school - late twenties people dancing around and playing games until all hours of the night ... using whatever common language we could muster, hearing translations from translations until everyone had gotten the instructions in a language they knew ... I was overwhelmed.

There were no Protestant/Catholic boundary lines. There were no age or nationality lines. Language barriers were conquered by, quite literally, grabbing the closest available person and asking for help. I played volleyball with a group of kids from eastern Germany and one girl did all the translating that was needed for us. She was fifteen. Can you imagine being fluent enough to translate at 15? But openness in language was notthe only thing. It was a feeling of having no restrictions, you needed no mask. Make-up, hair, even clothes were just senseless objects. As it turns out, forks are overrated and everything can indeed be eaten with a spoon. You didn't have to be or do anything you weren't. If you didn't want to go to something, no one was going to make you. If you wanted to do everything, you just squished it into your day. But even if you filled your day from top to bottom with things to do, you didn't feel overwhelmed and you still had plenty of time to think and feel and reflect and relax.

It was like stepping into and out of another universe. But, you still brought your world with you. Because I am, indeed, a girl, I do stupid girl like things. For example, thinking. My lovely girlfriends know exactly what I mean in this sense. You twirl something around in your mind imagining the best possible scenarios and the worst possible scenarios and trying to figure out what you would say or do, and in what order. So I did this the first few days, and fell asleep thinking the next few nights, but by the last day I had almost forgotten. Not brainwashed forgotten, but realized the futility of all this irrational imagining of something that would probably never happen anyway. Then I got on the bus.

Brother Cyril told us that some people say the most important moment of Taizé is when you get off the bus at home. It is taking the simplicity you have learned with you and applying your new knowledge in the outside world. The issues I brought with me to Taizé still exist - they don't disappear because I have been on retreat. And I have new questions to think about and answer, questions like:
What is my vulnerability?
What role can I play in international peace?
How does my faith effect the outside world?
What do I hide from others? Am I hiding this from God?

I am probably still going to beat myself up for making "stupid mistakes" (like taping things to windows for example or forgetting to do something until the deadline has passed) - but I can't change that I already did it. I just have to see what happens now.

Maybe it isn't so much that Taizé taught me these things as that I just had time to really find them in my own head. I know it is stuff I advise others to do all the time. Sit, relax, reflect, everything is going to work out fine. But I have a hard time telling myself that. That might be my personal challenge for the next few weeks. More importantly though, I think it was a good way to sum up my time here in France. Learning to live in simplicity (or the Stone Age in some cases) and to relax. In America, I go-go-go all the time. I hardly ever just sit back and do things for me. When I came here I had less to do and felt bad about doing things for myself. I discovered that although you have to take time for yourself you don't have to stop helping others. Helping yourself sometimes helps others.

I found in myself a need to serve others. I have to - it is what keeps me going. I can run if I am encouraging someone else to do it. I can not be afraid of blood, or spiders, or anything if I am protecting a child or anyone for that matter. I could pray without distraction when it was for others. I don't know what that means, my need to do stuff for other people. It annoys some people, like Hélène who told me it was outrageous the way I made sure everyone had enough food before I served myself - that I needed and deserved to eat to. (She even made me serve myself first on Easter, and it felt so strange.) It is probably the same reason I always tell people how I feel about them (the good, the bad, and the ugly (sorry, can't help it)) I have this (for Marco) egotistical fascination with the idea that what I have to tell people could help them, change them, or otherwise affect them. I just don't know. But I am not going to change this about myself. I think it helps make me who I am. The weird person that I am.

So now you have hung in there with me through a really long blog that was religious, journal-like, introspective, and full of subtle and blatant hints at things going on with me right now. Thanks. I know it was difficult. I can promise you this - when the blogs start being in French, they will be an awful lot shorter! Love always, ~Heather


SLM er said…
this sounds awesome. I hope I get the chance to do this someday...