The Taizé Cross
Tucked away in Burgundy, near Lyon, is a little French monastery called Taizé. For seventy-three years it’s been a community offering hospitality first to refugees and then to spiritual seekers. And it’s all thanks to a twenty-five year old Swiss monk named Brother Roger who decided that he should offer assistance to people suffering during WW2, just as his grandmother did for people during WW1. He died in 2005 at 90. God is love, he believed. “Gradually the conviction took shape in me that it was essential to create a community with men determined to give their whole life and who would always try to understand one another and be reconciled, a community where kindness of heart and simplicity would be at the center of everything.”
From very humble beginnings, the Taizé community has grown to over a hundred brothers and offers community to people from all Catholic and Protestant backgrounds through ecumenical worship of praying, singing, and reading together. Taizé worship experiences have now spread to thirty countries.
About 100,000 young adults do a Taizé pilgrimage annually. Most stay for a week, from Sunday to Sunday. Simple chant-like Taizé songs are now sung around the world, including my small Episcopalian church in Bethel, Vermont.
One early evening, we decided to hold a Taizé worship service along with a labyrinth walk and the deeply meditative experience was transformative for some people. Through song and prayer, including the act of bodily walking prayer, people traveled to their centers, metaphorically, as they walked to the center of the seven-circuit Cretan-style labyrinth.
A poem by Marilyn McEntyre was read before people began walking the labyrinth. In part, it reads: “Every turning moves us toward the center…We learn how little we can measure, how great can be the gift of a moment, a pause along the path…We circle inward, consenting, outward, trusting and are taught again the folly of laying up treasures…But all we have comes down to this: yes to what is here, now. Thanks be to God, for what is here now, again, and again.”
I asked five people to offer comments based on their experience of that evening. They graciously complied. Here is what they said:
“Holding our tender questions, we moved through the labyrinth, and in return, were moved by the presence of God. “Ubi caritas…where true charity and love abide, God is there.” Our combined labyrinth/Taize service was so deeply meditative that we didn’t want it to end. It drew us more closely into the desire and the ability to pray without ceasing.”
“The repetition of the chords on the piano, along with the quiet singing and walking enveloped the space with amazing sense of peace and calm.”
“My experience was very healing. It grounded me, and renewed my sense of letting go and trusting that whatever is meant to be, will be. I needed that more than I knew.”
“I think the symbolism of walking the labyrinth within the safe walls of a loving church is a physical reminder that the way to keep growing in life and spiritual development is to keep moving forward, just keep moving, growing, learning, traveling, adventuring. Like our small planet home moving around our sun, although we have a radical level of personal and societal freedom to change and evolve (both positively and negatively), at the same time we are also invisibly guided along the path by the very source of our own existence, with which we are fundamentally connected. We can, and must, forge our own unique paths, but can never really get lost as divine gravity holds us in its invisible and unconditionally loving ellipse, not so strong as to bring us crashing in to the divine singularity that would end our beautiful separateness, but not so weak as to allow us to float entirely away either. If the deep symbolism of the labyrinth is correct, as I perceive it, we are both gently guided yet supremely free. Life might seem like a maze in which we can get totally lost but it is really a labyrinth, in which we cannot. Or one can hope!”
“The Taizé service was a welcome step out of the rushing world and into a sacred space for a little while.”