Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Singing in Taize

Finally I made it to Taize. I gave them my laptop to keep in a secure location. But they have clunky internet machines with awful keyboards that I can use for 2 euros for 30 minutes, or about $3. So I may send occasional dispatches from here.

There is something about travelling in a foreign country where I have only a rudimentary understanding of the language, that has heightened my sense of dependence on God. Getting onto the train was one of those experiences. I walked along the train until I spotted what looked like second class. I got on the first car, unloaded my luggage, and sat in the first available empty seat. A few minutes later a French woman began to explain something to me but she didn't know any English. Finally I asked, "Reserve?" And I realized we had assigned reserved seats. Fortunately my reserved seat was across the aisle and one row over, otherwise I would have needed to lug all my luggage in the narrow aisles to who knows how many cars away.

As I was reading a book in the train, which is what most people were doing--that or sleeping, I remembered that a week earlier when my brothers or parents would talk about what they would be doing in a week, I would say, "Sorry I can't be there, but next Sunday I will be on a train through the French countryside." So I decided I had better look out the window and enjoy. And the French countryside is beautiful. Undulating hills are green with many crops other than corn. And almost all the cows are white. Homes are old stonework. There are many straight lines, but they do not have the square quilt pattern of northern Indiana. Of course, corn and square fields are fine, but also vive la difference.

As I arrived at Taize I was nervous about what would happen here. What was it that I was looking for? How did I intend to experience God here in a way that I could not anywhere else?

The first worship answered my questions. It was a beautiful and uplifting experience. When we hosted Roman Catholic priest Brian Daley as our preacher, I tried to explain the worship to him in language that would make sense to him. So I told him, "Mennonites sing our liturgy." Liturgy is from the Greek word for "work of the people." Catholics are happy to recite creeds and litanies with the spoken word. But Mennonites complain that it seems like they don't really mean it when they have to read a litany. However if you set those same words to music, they will sing almost anything with meaning, although Rich occasionally will point out bad theology in a hymn we just sang.

At Taize also the liturgy is sung. There were also Scripture readings and a few prayers spoken by the brothers. But it was mostly sung in two or four-part harmonies. As you sing the repetitive phrases it is as if time is standing still, that you are taking part in the unending praise of eternity. I stayed for 1 1/2 hours, but didn't realize how late it was. It was good.

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