Remembering Taizé

I made a pilgrimage to Taizé about a year and a half ago.

I loved the amazing music, the worship three times a day, the time of silence in a large group, and the look of the church. Yet after a day or two monastic life was not for me.

It began to seem more like Outward Bound than a week in the French countryside. For example, you live in very tight living quarters in what are called barracks; your meal is ladled onto a plastic plate; your one utensil is a spoon; your seats in the tent are wooden benches that teeter and tip you over; it was unforgivingly cold.

I realized I needed to break free. I realized I have a restless spirit and that I find peace when I am on the go as well as quietly prayerful. I discovered a way out — a bus cuts through the campus. I snuck away during morning service and boarded the public bus for one Euro fifty cents. I took the bus until a petite ville beckoned. I hopped off and had an adventure.

I traveled to the monastery for a quiet and contemplative life. Yet, if truth be told, I found more treasures in the neighboring French countryside and the world beyond the gates.

While my visit to Taizé was not what I’d expected, not entirely contemplativethe memories of that time — of exploring neighboring villages and sitting on the floor in the church comfort me and remind me that I am not alone and that I am bound for adventure.

This is a bit of rework from my earlier blog post and from my travel blogging site: MBCoudal @ travelpod.

Greymoor Ecumenical

“I hope the zombies don’t get us,” Hayden said.

“I knew you should never have snuck into that stupid movie, Zombieland!” I told my almost-13 year old.

“Let’s go back to Kara’s,” he said.  Our friends lived down the road and had just moved to Garrison from the city. My daughters were staying with them. Hayden and I were spending one night at the Greymoor monastery.

I love monasteries. I love them in theory, but Hayden’s right, they can be spooky.  And a bit chilly. I don’t know why they’re cold. But even in October at Taize in the Southeast-ish of France, that monastery was so cold, perched as it was, way up on a hill. (Maybe that’s why monasteries are chilly, because they’re hilly!)

The day before, the friendly woman on the phone had instructed me on how to find our way into our room in the Greymoor Spiritual Life Center since we were arriving after hours. When I asked how much to pay, she said, “Whatever you want.”

We entered through the loading dock, up an elevator five stories, then walked another flight up to the sixth floor. The hallway was long and well-lit. It seemed we were the only people on the whole floor of one hundred identical cells. Er, rooms.

After the zombie conversation with Hayden, we went to sleep. Lately, I’ve been waking in the night, worried. But at the monastery, I slept well and felt prayed for, even though I woke in the night. I felt a little spooked, but also safe. I felt hidden.

Our room was college-dorm 1950’s chic. From one twin bed, you could put your feet on the other twin bed. We had a sink and a small closet. I felt I hit pay dirt when I found the extra 1950’ish blanket in the drawer.

In the morning, I asked an African woman in the long hallway for directions to the dining room. We found our way back down one flight. A different hallway this time. Full of light and art. Although it was a bit heavy on the crucifix art and the women weeping art. Still, lovely art.

Hayden wore my tee shirt that says, “Love ’em all. Let God sort out the rest.” I loved that my son joined me on this retreat. He didn’t balk about not having brought his XBox or a friend. He didn’t miss the luxuries of a hotel. 

We walked past the unoccupied Spelman library with a gorgeous view of the Hudson. We found the dining hall. Fifty empty tables. Only two occupied by a handful of grey-haired men. One monk wore the brown robe and white rope. Hayden stared. The gentlemen nodded at us or said, “Good morning.” I think the Franciscan brothers are known for their hospitality.

I had hoped they would be serving oatmeal. Yes! Thank God! Oatmeal and fresh fruit. Exactly as I’d hoped. Simple and healthy.

I don’t know why I love monasteries. Maybe because they are simple, art-filled, friendly, archiac, timeless. Maybe I like monasteries, too, because I like rules. St. Benedict’s rules had to do with humility, chastity, poverty, silence. (In college, I had to read St. Benedict’s Rules for some Midieval Literature class.)

I like having my #7 Rules for Living. They are a little easier for me than a monk’s vows.

Taize Service & My Guys

Candle Lighting Service

The huge bells toll, ring, do all those verb-y things that huge bells do.

In the church, the brothers take the center aisle like NFL players taking the field. In their efforts to be humble, they are bigger than life. They walk to their usual seat or knee rest. Sometimes they go to a new spot on the center aisle, but usually they take the same spot, Brother Emile said.

Brother Emile, who is Canadian, is one of “my guys.” There are other brothers that I love – the tall one who served me communion, the Asian one who helped me change rooms, the one who leads Bible Study. The Bible Study Leader is Brother Wolfgang and he rides a bicycle to Tent F where the adults gather. I admit I have a weakness for bike-riding monks.

One of my friends said that Wolfgang was one of her guys until he stopped leading the Bible Study in English and just let it be simultaneously translated into English by a couple of German 20-something year olds. But she liked his grey hair.

One of the brothers is handsome in a Robert Redford kind of way. I think he may be in love with a dark-haired 20 year old German woman. As he processed by her last night, he coughed. Then, the dark-haired girl’s friend, the one with glasses, pinched the dark-haired girl. They practically swooned. The cough signified something. But what?

Something new happened towards the end of the service. Instead of processing out, some of the brothers stood like sentinels around the perimeter of the sanctuary. Why? The answer becomes clear as people approached them. It’s confession or a time for guidance.

I have to admit I went up to one brother that night. I will not tell you what we talked about. But when he lay his heavy hand on my head, I really felt blessed and protected.

Then the last night at Taize, after the service, Brother Emile is standing right next to me. And I feel sorry for him, because no one is coming up to him to ask for guidance or forgiveness, so I go to him. I ask him for blessings for our group’s travel. And he puts his hand on my head and says something about “Jesus, forgive your friend, Mary Beth.” And maybe that’s his standard prayer but I wasn’t asking for forgiveness. I did like that he said I’m a friend of Jesus’s though. And I wondered if I could Facebook friend Jesus, would I?