Taizé: Light and Darkness

The first time I went to the Roman church (which is the original Taizé church, made of old stone, located in the heart of the village)- I found St. Francis richly veiled in reds and blues still staining the glass and echoing the filtered light through stale air onto the floor where I knelt and prayed. It was then and there I entered into a meditative space of prayer and disappeared into silence of noise and silence of heart.

Each evening the sun slumped down into the low west sky behind us and the light coming in through the windows rose to the top of the church’s front wall. It’s doubtful many people ever notice the rising lights, ascending almost imperceptibly, like paint drying. On warm days not only did the glow from the setting sun carry through the rafters and onto front wall of the church but also the songs of birds perched on the roof. When our human songs of praise and repetition ceased, stillness settled on our hearts like dew and we were able to hear God’s creatures sing from His house outside.

I still remember lying on the dry grass outside watching the swallows sweep between the trees above me into the empty background: a pale blue sky. The swallows’ bodies are sharp, cut like curves of a boomerang- always turning. They perch quickly to sing and speak promises of life. It was in this same patch of grass where I stumbled out of church drunk on something mixed between apathy, angst and anger. Moments prior I had laid my head on the cross, kneeling before God and offering Him my honesty. It felt like the words were falling on deaf ears. Forsaken. I suppose it was appropriate that each Friday night at Taizé there is a service to remember the Christ, crucified. As I stumbled out of the church that Friday night I found my way to an old, decrepit shack- half rotten and perhaps not too different from the blessed shack of Bethlehem- and was caught like an insect in the soft glow of dirty lamps illuminating icons of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. As I sat there sulking at God, a black spider crawled up slowly across Jesus’ face. In another web, just below, a winged insect twisted, hoping for freedom but bound in chains. The insect had been, no doubt, drawn there by the light on this black night- the light that was meant to illuminate Christ, a symbol of hope and salvation. For this twisting insect the light could only bring death. Is nothing sacred?

There was light and there was darkness.

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I loved the story of a bridge on the road to Taizé that had been vandalized by someone spray painting an offensive defamation of a woman named Aurora. After I arrived, I heard a covert collaboration was about to be set in motion between a graffiti artist and one of the Brothers. For days there was conspiring until one night, by cover of darkness, the artist and unsuspecting monk- a man of light and prayer with vows of peace- set out to fight fire with fire. Spray paint on spray paint. They waited until late, when the cover was deep and worked in haste.

The name Aurora means “the dawn.” Whichever sins she had committed to receive such an outspoken defamation on that bridge, they would not be held against her. The anonymous accuser, acting in hate, was nowhere to be found that night. “Where are your accusers?” Aurora, a woman unbeknownst to us and destined to be continuously defamed, was to be the recipient of a monk and an artist’s graffiti grace. It was the darkest point of the night when the conspirers, clad in black, moved like ghosts in the wind. The spray cans floated and hissed in fluid motion. And with that a new day was beginning. A sunrise was being created, not on the horizon of the earth, but on the horizon of a concrete bridge.

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Perhaps the most necessary snippet of my trip to Taizé would be the prevailing theme of solidarity weaving its way through daily life at the monastery. Indeed, “solidarity” is the main theme for Taizé over the course of a three year period. And it couldn’t be more appropriate. Never before had I experienced such diversity. We (the “permanent” residents) were the intermediaries, the supervisors and managers, the messengers: we instituted and carried out the rhythms of work for all visitors which made the wheels of the institution turn. Many of the permanents who were not from Europe had been invited by brothers for the purpose of diversity. Each working team was throughly melted down and mixed for diversity. Each day, throughout the rhythms of eating, praying, and working we bumped into each other and had spontaneous conversations. You could never predict who you would see in a day and thus, who you would get to know first and foremost. Inevitably, unpredictable friendships begin to take shape and form crossing borders and barriers. Amid such diversity, solidarity has ample space to blossom.

I loved how the simple songs from every language focus on the heart, not on the head. We may not know the words of songs sung in foreign tongue but we were united in voice and in faith. Solidarity. I loved learning how to communicate, work together, and grow friendships with people from all parts of the world with little help from language.

I loved the gorgeous walks and pastoral landscapes. The sheep grazing quietly. The curious cows watching as I pass. The train cutting through the hills and passing by like a dream.

I loved the sun covered hills baking in the amber glow of late afternoon. Sitting by the river on midsummer’s day, hiding out in the dappled shade as it swayed in the gentle breeze. The water trickling past our feet and its sound carrying through the tall grass and pastures. 

I took pleasure in the poetic justice of offering an apple to horse who spit it out blatantly, with no regard for tact. The half-torn apple, now discarded, rolled to a stop; its sweet juices gathering flies. A friend: our lives had been two objects moving in the same direction for a moment. That ephemeral moment slipped into the past; lost but not forgotten. The flies of rejection buzzed around my head.

I could tell you about the night-runs with Simon. The full moon and respite from the heat. The chasing of a raccoon. I could tell you about the owls I spotted in hiding. I could tell you about the lost sheep I found.

I could tell you about the ancient stone villages and Abbys- the history and aroma of antiquity. I could tell you about my favorite little village, Ameugny. I could tell you about the prickly grass in the park overlooking the western valley and the fields where I lay at night gazing into the soul of stars. I could tell you about the spirit route: the Lakota Indian’s term for a journey through the milky way, where our souls spill and pour through the stars.

Perhaps someday.

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