Phase three of this journey has officially begun!  We have left Taizé and have arrived in Geneva, a group of seven Americans together on an adventure.  It will be interesting to see how this group travel dynamic works out.  But, for now, it is safe to say that we are happy to be together and happy to be leaving the camp-like accommodations.

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Our first group adventure involved our bus ride from Taizé to the train station in Macon.  The bus was jam-packed, and everyone seemed to be willing to stomp on anyone else in order to catch this bus.  Gone was the goodwill fostered from our spiritual pilgrimage– not when there are public transportation schedules to adhere to!  Just as we were getting settled in our seats, a scuffle broke out near the front of the bus:

Australian man: Oh GREAT!  That’s just GREAT!  Take up an ENTIRE SEAT with your bag when there are NO SEATS LEFT on this bus!  SUCH IGNORANCE!

French man at whom he was yelling:  ?

A:  THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE!  MOVE YOUR BAG!

F: ? (looks out the window)

A: Dis-GUSTING!  And you call yourself a Christian…

Needless to say, the bus driver was having a bad morning.  But nothing could compare to the visible resignation that emanated from her seat when we finally arrived at the Macon train station…

And a car was blocking her entrance.

She honked and honked, but to no avail.  So, she put her head on her steering wheel and sighed.  Then, she opened the door and said, in that beautiful French language:  “You will have to get off here, I’m afraid.”

Well!  We Americans had seen enough!  We couldn’t leave this poor woman to her terrible day without giving at least one shot at making it better.  So, we did what any crazy group of Americans in our situation would do:

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We recruited French boy scouts from the bus.  And we moved the car.

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Though, not ALL of us were willing to undertake the risk.

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But, alas!  Victory!  Victory, at last!

Needless to say, I think the bus driver had her day a little brightened…

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I am leaving Taizé today, and after a full week of being here, I think I finally “get” what is so special about this place.

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This community was started by a Swiss immigrant to France named Brother Roger.  He chose this location precisely because of its poverty and isolation, and, in the middle of World War II, he felt that he wanted to live among people who were being directly affected by the violence.  He wanted to be a presence of peace and reconciliation in a troubled place.

It’s hard to imagine such a picturesque place being disturbed by war and sadness.  And yet, decades after Brother Roger founded this community, violence erupted once again, reminding all who gather here that violence is not some abstraction that we can shelve and ignore.  The fact is that the seeds of violence and sin and despair lie within us all.

In 2005, Brother Roger was murdered– stabbed to death by a mentally-ill woman who had wandered into the Church of Reconciliation (the centerpiece of Taizé) during an evening prayer service, crossed into the Choir, and attacked Brother Roger, killing him almost instantly.

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The community did not react with violence or anger.  Instead, the community continued to exist as it always has, as a witnessing community where peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness (even in the face of murder) are at the core of every action, every word, and every intention of the community.

The spirit of hospitality that welcomes young people to gather and pray with the brothers day after day is the same spirit that allows for young people to welcome others from different countries, cultures, and languages into their own hearts and lives.

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It’s funny:  I was physically and emotionally uncomfortable for most of my time at Taizé.  But, having had this experience, I am forever changed.

And I can’t wait to go back.

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Today has been a pretty incredible day at Taizé, and, while my American friends ventured to town in order to find a restaurant, I stayed behind and was rewarded with some of the most thought-provoking and wonderful conversations.

After lunch, I sat in a circle with Julia, Eva, Dorota, and Kristina (German, Austrian, Polish, and German, respectively), and we talked about our difficulties with our mothers, with ourselves, and with God.  It was amazing to hear each of these young women– with various degrees of fluency in English– articulate some of the same struggles that I have had my whole life.  How do we make our mothers proud?  How do we get a sense of who we are supposed to be?  How can we believe in God in a day and age of such violence and suffering around the world?  It was remarkable, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling that maybe– just maybe— the experience of Taizé is not supposed to be an individualized spiritual quest.  Instead, maybe it is the very communality, the very togetherness of our being here that tells us something about who we are and who God is.

I have always wanted to have friends all over the world– and not just American friends who relocate.  I want German friends and French friends and Polish friends and Russian friends.  I want Korean friends and Australian friends and Iraqi friends.  And here, in this small space in this rural place in France, I have, miraculously, made such friends.  And indeed, it is life-changing.

I am still astonished by the fact that these young people come here.  We pray together, we eat together, we work together, we sleep together.  And, somehow, mysteriously, God is at work in it all.  God prays with us, eats with us, works with us, sleeps with us.  God gives us space to be here.  Our pilgrim God who has journeyed to us has made the space for us to journey to God.  I find this amazing, and I watch as the young people are drawn here.

Somehow, I get to be a little part of this story.  God’s story.  Taizé’s story.  My story is somehow a part– maybe even an important part– of the story, at least, insofar as my story intersects and intertwines with others’.

Remarkable.  Humbling.

Taizé: Take Two

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My partner in silence-keeping is a quiet German girl named Julia (pronounced Yoolia).  She is sweet, but she does not think she speaks English well so she does not speak much at all.  I can’t help but feel embarrassed that I am so uni-lingual.  I know Spanish pretty well, I can vaguely remember some Italian from college, but, for the most part, I’m useless over here.  I have fallen head-over-heels in love with French, but, contrary to my expectation, English and German are the languages I am hearing most here in Taizé.

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But Julia and I communicate very well when she opens up– it just takes a little bit of patience.  Patience, I’ve got.  I have to have it while traveling and being here or else I’d go insane.  But, I am still struggling.  This place is exactly what I was told it would be, but it is still nothing like I imagined… sort of like marriage.  I want to BE here, I want to make friends and have good conversation with people from around the world.  BUT!  I also just want to hit the road and get back out there on my own, having the grand adventure I was having just a week ago.  I want to be sleeping well and eating good food.  I want my wine to come in a glass cup with a stem.  I want more coffee and less bread.  And I want some Claritin.  I want, I want, I want…

But, I have what I need, I suppose.  I have a lunch sitting in my stomach (albeit not one I care to write about), I have a bed to lie on, water to drink, people to talk to, a place to pray, clothes to wear.  It is so difficult to be satisfied with these things.  It is difficult to do my work here– sitting in a cold, damp, bee-infested field, telling teenagers to keep their shirts on their backs, their hands to themselves, and their voices down.  It is difficult not to be frustrated when I can’t understand other people.  It is difficult to settle myself long enough to pray, to think, to reflect.

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So, here I am at Taizé.  I thought it would be a life-altering experience, and, I suppose it still has that potential, but it is all so other.  It is not idyllic.  It is a real place with real people, and that always poses real problems.  And real joys.

Some realities:

– I am getting to know so many people– Polish, Russian, German, Lithuanian, French, Argentinian, Swiss, Italian, Dutch, etc.  Americans here are rare, but not totally non-existent.

– Today, Elizabeth (the red-headed German) said that she thought I was like “sunshine.”  I cannot say how good that made me feel, how kind that was to hear.

– In many ways, I think I am still learning how to love myself.  I think this is ok.

– I can’t help but wonder what people do here if they do not believe in God and if they do not pray or meditate?  What brings them here?  What brings any of us here?

One word: Overwhelming.

So many thoughts, I don’t know where to begin.  Right now, I am tired, sore, sick to my stomach, sick to my heart, and unsure about so much.

This is not like traveling.  This is like camp.

Now, I like camp, but this…?  This is like camp, on Mars.  Beautiful, yes, but so strange, so foreign, so other.  Suddenly, I am being expected to think about my soul, and whenever that expectation is upon me, it’s the last thing I want to do.

I don’t know what to think of Taizé.  I can’t say that I don’t like it, but as of now, I can’t say that I do.  Yesterday, I had absolutely no time to journal.  Today, I have not had time even to brush my teeth.  It’s hardly the quiet and soul-quenching space that I was hoping.  At least, not yet.

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Right now, I am standing in the meditation garden, the Source.  My job is to be the silence-keeper over this space.  I do not really like it; I am not very good at it.  Teenagers keep coming down here to talk and laugh and get away from their adult supervisors.  And I have to tiptoe over to them and request that they be quiet.  So far, I have walked away twice with the strong suspicion that the teens are immediately launching into some jokes at my expense (and in a language I cannot understand!).  I’m fine with being made fun of by teenagers; I just wish I knew how to communicate more effectively with them!

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Still, it is a beautiful place.  I have watched French ducks eat lunch for two consecutive mornings.  What could be more simple and transcendental than that?

But, it is damp and cold here, and I am increasingly feeling like I might be allergic to this region of France.  But, I am trying to hold it together.  Lord knows, I am trying.

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Some initial observations about Taizé:

-Things are not nearly as self-explanatory as I thought they would be.

-Songs are difficult to pick up right away and are not repeated nearly as much as I thought.

-The silence during our prayer times is not as long or as silent as I thought it would be (people shifting and coughing and sneezing tends to make a lot of noise).

-Without a worship leader, I find it difficult to know what to do or where to look.

-I am much more self-conscious than I hoped I would be.

-Most of the time, I am utterly exhausted.  And hungry.  So, spiritual pilgrimmage?  To be determined.