Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday reflection: My heart's spiritual home

The view through the centre of Taize at the community's edge...
We're home from an amazing vacation... and I spent a good part of yesterday going through over a thousand picture and video files from our digital camera, reliving our trip of a lifetime. The trip centered on a visit with some very dear friends in Belgium, and was book-ended with time in Taizé and Paris in France, and in London, England.

For me, the highlight of our trip was the time spent with Gaby and Yvonne and their family in Flanders, which you've already heard a bit about. The next best thing was the very beginning of the trip -- what turned out to be the best 3-day retreat of my life in Taizé, France. 

Taizé is a tiny village in the beautiful rolling hills of France's Bourgogne (Burgundy, as in wine) region that is home to an ecumenical religious community. In August 2015, the community of brothers of different denominations who welcome young pilgrims year round will celebrate its 75th anniversary with meetings on every continent where youth will gather "to mobilize their energies, [and] to gather together their longings, intuitions and experiences" as part of Taizé's "pilgrimage of trust on earth."

Brother Ghislain starts our session with a chant...
And trust was exactly where my focus needed to be for the first three days of our holiday. Being something of a worry-wart, I am a rather anxious traveller, but that soon changed as I was quietly welcomed among the adults over 35 who were staying for the week, sharing a room of bunks with women from Poland, China, France and Italy. The first day was like a silent retreat as I observed the goings-on and found my way around (most people begin their week-long stay on a Sunday so everyone was well into the swing of things by the time my daughters and I arrived on Thursday afternoon). On Friday, I connected with a “scripture discussion group” made up of Swedes and Norwegians, a lady from England, and a fellow from Germany, who shared thoughts about Brother Ghislain’s morning Bible reflections in our common language, English. Language was rarely an issue -- people from many different places found ways to communicate, and because four of my five roommates spoke only their mother tongues and French, I got a real workout in my second language! My sharing group members were from many different churches with many different practices, but we delighted in our shared Christianity.

A very different Nativity scene. I understand the giraffe now, but what is the elephant's meaning?
Big ears for listening?
I really enjoyed Brother Ghislain's spiritual input. He had much wisdom to share when breaking open the scripture of the day, but perhaps my favourite pearl was when he encouraged us to be like giraffes, animals who possess the largest heart in proportion to their body, and the widest view. I suspect that's why the giraffe appears in the nativity scene mounted outside the brothers' enclosure. See her?

Doing supper dishes...
Having been an organizer of Taizé Prayer services in Edmonton for over 20 years, I finally got to experience, first hand, what our little music group has been trying to emulate. In the Church of Reconciliation, there were many moments of joy so overwhelming that it was all I could do not to burst into tears of happiness. I had finally reached my heart’s spiritual home. The simplicity of the day’s schedule involving work, sharing, and prayer in a rustic setting filled me with the deepest gratitude
A good bench for silent reflection...
I’ve ever known. Walking in the woods, enjoying nature, doing chores, and answering the call of the bells for prayer with the brothers and well over a thousand other pilgrims (most aged 16-35) in the Church of the Reconciliation was an experience I will never forget. A few times, the prayer melodies carried late into the night, but I couldn’t tear myself away. Something in me had been thirsting for what was being given, and when Sunday came, I was overflowing with a deep peace and joy. My two eldest daughters also enjoyed their experience with youth from around the world.

If you’ve been following my moodlings for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling with what feels like excessive complexity in my own church. At Taizé, I couldn’t help but feel that Christ would feel more at home there because everyone is welcome to come to the table, and the underlying structure is just enough to keep things going without becoming top-heavy and overly focused on the incidentals. Although the grandeur of amazing architecture and high ritual used to impress me, now my soul craves simplicity. I was much more at home in the Church of the Reconciliation than at mass in Westminster Cathedral two weeks later!

I’ll admit it – since it is unlikely that I will ever return to Taizé -- I cheated and made a few quiet little videos to bring home so that I can revisit my experience from time to time, and I share my favourite one here. I like its fuzzy focus and the lovely, cascading sound of echoing chant (it was past eleven p.m. and there was just a small group of us left to sing and pray). "Let all who are thirsty come" describes perfectly what happened for me during my three-day visit: “Let all who are thirsty, come. Let all who wish receive the water of life freely. Amen, come Lord Jesus. Amen, come Lord Jesus.”

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