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Taizé meditation enriches participants through chants, silence and action

Leaders of Taizé worship in Spokane and Pullman expressed sorrow at news of the murder of Taizé founder Brother Roger Schutz in August. They carry Taizé in their lives here.

Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet Joy Milos, who teaches Christian spirituality at Gonzaga University, describes Taizé as an inclusive, simple form of prayer, “an oasis of peace” that takes participants inward and moves them outward.

“It calls us to reconciliation and inclusiveness,” she said, “giving us a vision beyond sectarianism, to come together as Catholics and Protestants.”

Suzanne Capstick, music team leader for Taizé services held alternate months for about six years at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Spokane, said, “It was tragic that someone with his way of peace and reconciliation would meet such a violent end.”

The next regular candlelight Taizé worship will be held at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 24, at St. Stephen’s, 5720 S. Perry.  The schedule varies each month. 

In addition, the St. Ann’s Taizé team will lead the third annual Taizé camp Sept. 9 to 11 at Camp Cross, the Episcopal camp on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Sheryll Shepard of St. Stephen’s said the meditative services include repetitive chants that help people “reflect on the spirit of God deep within” and give space to “shut out the noise of the world.”

About 40 to 60 regularly attend the Spokane services that developed from one started 10 years ago at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John. 

Sister Joy and the Rev. Kristi Philip, now interim dean at the cathedral, shared leading those services.  About five years ago, they visited Taizé for a few days.

“The prayers and music inhabit your spirit, focusing energy.  The simplicity of chants draws you to another level.  Many major church hymnals today include ‘Ubi Caritas’ or ‘Eat this Bread,’ among the Taizé golden oldies,” Joy said.

Bishop William Skylstad of the Diocese of Spokane, writing to The Fig Tree from Moscow, Russia, commented:

“The Taizé community is well known throughout the Catholic world. In the United States, the music from Taizé is often used in Catholic parishes.  The simplicity, the depth of the hymns has touched many people. 

“I was presiding at the first international Mass at World Youth Day when one of the priests came up after communion and told me that Brother Roger had been murdered,” Bishop Skylstad said.  “We offered a prayer for him as the crowd became silent in appreciation and, I suspect, shock.”

He pointed out that the Holy See has been supportive of the Taizé movement because of its ecumenical implications. 

Catholic News Service quoted him, as head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressing “great sadness” at the “horrific news” of Brother Roger’s death.

In an Aug. 18 letter of condolence to the new leader, Brother Alois, he said: “Being one with Brother Roger and the community in a firm faith in the Resurrection, we recommit ourselves to the communion to which he bore witness in life and death.”

WSU group at Taize

Campus ministry Taizé group

Gail Stearns, director of the Common Ministries in Higher Education at Koinonia House at Washington State University in Pullman, saw Brother Roger in 2004, when she took 10 students there with the Rev. Robert Hicks, United Methodist campus minister.

“Brother Roger, who came to evening services, was frail and preparing for his successor, but what a horrible way for his life to end,” she said.

Koinonia House began the semester’s weekly Taizé services at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 28 at Simpson United Methodist Church in Pullman. 

Robert also visited Taizé in May with five students and the Rev. Kristine Zakarison of Community Congregational United Church of Christ in Pullman. He found Brother Roger more frail.

“We are restructuring the Common Ministry, which includes six denominations, to offer a Taizé worship configured around simplicity and reconciliation,” said Robert, whose father, also a United Methodist pastor, was interested in mystics and contemplative prayer.  “That background made him receptive to the balance of contemplative prayer, an inward journey and outward action.  My father was involved in the civil rights movement, sponsoring boat people after the Vietnam War and setting up a refugee center—all balanced with prayer.”

Robert said the Vatican embraced Taizé in the 1960s, and the Eastern Orthodox in the 1970s. 

Every day, Catholics celebrate the Eucharist at a 7:30 a.m. Mass in the crypt under the Church of Reconciliation, said Kristine, who attended and was served.  The elements consecrated by the priest are served in the communion service for everyone.

“Some Catholics receive that. Other pilgrims share only the bread of fellowship, so everyone can experience part of the common table,” Robert said. “Those over 30 separate from the young people, attending the same worship, but sitting on the side.”

Robert said Taizé brothers consider it a miracle that 3,000 to 6,000 come each week with no promotion on their part.

“The students appreciated the music, but said nothing compared to the power of the silence,” he said.  “It’s the gift of Taizé worship.  Worshipers are invited to center and focus, closing their eyes to meditate without distraction of candles or images.”

Chants were once in Latin and French, but now monks and pilgrims sing in many languages.

“We use many languages in our services” Robert said.  “Singing in another language helps us enter into prayer for reconciliation for the world. As we repeat a song 10 to 15 times, our bodies enter the cadence, we forget the words and experience their meaning.

“Music seems to happen magically, because the leaders, cantors and musicians are not in front.    The brothers may leave between 8:30 and 9 p.m., but many stay after midnight, singing or sitting in silence in the candlelight.  A cycle of rhythm and silence spirals worshipers into the depths of prayer.”

Women at Taize

Women at Taizé

At Simpson United Methodist in Pullman, people can sit in pews or on the floor.  At Taizé, there are no pews.  The Church of the Reconciliation has expanded over the years.  Walls can be closed in the winter, so worship is cozy for 200 pilgrims or expanded for 6,000.

At the Saturday evening candlelight service, monks pass out thin tapers that do not drip and have a notch cut above the base.  The candlelight flows from front to back, creating a growing sense of light that lasts 10 minutes, with candles extinguishing on their own, creating a growing wave of darkness from front to back.

When pilgrims come, they sign up for chores, because there is no paid staff, said Robert.  His group volunteered to clean the toilets.

“We thought it would be an appropriate witness for Americans to do that in the international community,” he said.  “Doing menial labor, we see the connection between worship and serving each other.”

Kristine said that monks told them that they could return to their communities all over the world and do Taizé worship, but that would not be “taking Taizé with you.”  To take Taizé with them meant going back to their communities, looking for the broken places and working to make reconciliation occur.

“Then we would be taking the spirit of Taizé back,” she said.

 With the decline of ecumenical relations in recent years in the Pullman area, Kristine and Robert hope the Taizé gatherings for college and high school students and the community will inspire churches to find each other  again and will spark engagement in common mission. 

“It’s hard to sustain work for causes by meeting around a table. Taizé begins with an inner experience of God’s affirming love, moves us to Brother Roger’s simple theology of God’s affirming love in our lives,” Robert said.

Along with the Taizé gatherings in Pullman, the Common Ministry will offer classes on spiritual life and contemplative prayer.

The Rev. Dennis Andersen, pastor of Peace Lutheran Church in Otis Orchards, first became acquainted with Taizé worship at Holden Village, which holds weekly meditative services.  He has long had an interest in contemplative prayer.

“With our emphasis on the Word, we Protestants have a slow time with contemplative prayer and silence.  To many it seems that nothing is happening,” said Dennis, who has offered Taizé services for his congregations during Lent, particularly for youth.

Diane Shiner, director of Holden Village, said, “We have adapted and used a Taizé-like service every Friday night since 1995.  We have named this Vespers service “Prayer Around the Cross” and have created several adaptations of a basic format of quiet chanting of repetitive songs, many from Taizé; individual intercessory, healing or meditative prayer, and candle lighting around the cross in a darkened worship space.”

Holden has compiled a booklet, “Prayer Around the Cross:  A Handbook to the Liturgy,” of seven sample services with music resources and other information, available at the Holden Village Bookstore or from its website  

“Holden is always a place of retreat, learning, and intentional Christian community.   At any given time, there are almost always a few people here who have also been to Taizé,” said Diane.

By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - Copyright © September 2005