What’s wrong with intentional community?

Thousands of people sing and worship together in this intentional community in Taizé.

I wrote an article for a Christian magazine a couple of months ago and mentioned that a young missionary lived in an intentional community with other missionaries.

I thought it was cool, because the missionary said the four young women had weekly meetings and talked about any cohabiting issues that’d come up — like cleaning out the fridge. And then they’d pray together.

This minor reference to an intentional community was edited out of the article. I wondered why. But, as usual, I didn’t make a fuss. I never asked the editor, Was there something wrong with that information?

And then, last night, I saw the movie Wanderlust. The leader of the hippie commune corrects Paul Rudd, “No, not a commune; We prefer intentional community.” And everyone in the audience laughed. And then I got it. Intentional community is perceived as hippy, dippy, grungy, suspicious, free love, attractive but not sustainable.

Briefly, I lived in intentional community. There was hardship and friendship. (That's me on the right, with Lee, our wrangler).

Tell that to the monks and religious orders. Religious people, like monks, priests, nuns, and, even young adult missionaries, live together and care for one another in communities all over. And it makes good sense, especially as people age and do not have children or spouses to care for them. Human beings are social creatures. We crave community, intentional or ad hoc.

Is being one half of a married, straight couple the only sanctioned way to live? I don’t think so. I thought a lot about this when I went to Taizé a few years ago. In that monastery, the brothers seemed to care a lot about one another and they cared a lot about the thousands of people visiting and living with them. That is intentional community too.

Brother Roger, who founded the Taizé community in 1940, said, “I think that I never lost the intuition that community life could be a sign that God is love, and love alone.”

If an intentional community is based on love – and figuring out who cleans the fridge – that does not seem to be so crazy. That seems to me to be the point.

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.  http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/mbcoudal/1/1256052233/tpod.html#ixzz1PDNpyITx

Light Within

written around October 15, 2009 at the Taize community

The Altar

Last night I stayed in evening worship until the candles were extinguished by two young people. Today I arrived early to morning service in time to see the candles being lit by one young man. I was one of the first in and the last out (FILO). I also was one of the first out at the morning service.

The altar is a jumble of about a hundred leaning cement blocks with candles within. It’s hard for me not to imagine that the candles are symbolic of all of the lights within all of us at Taize and beyond. We each have a light within and we lean, round shouldered on one another.


Although I love the worship three times a day – the amazing singing (the harmonies!) and the time of silence, I must admit that monastic life may not be for me.

Taize is more like Outward Bound than a week in the French countryside. For example, you have the tight living quarters in the barracks, the ladled serving at mealtime on a plastic plate, the one utensil (a spoon), the seats on wooden benches, and the unforgiving cold.

The Bus

I did discover a way out — there is a bus that cuts through the campus. Today, like several days, I snuck away from 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 stayed at Taize and led a contemplative life. Yet, if truth be told, I also snuck away, and discovered hidden treasures in the neighboring French countryside. Both kept me going. And the memories will keep me going.