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Taizé – beauty, community, justice, peace

A Taizé-style worship service to celebrate Pentecost was held at South Sydney Uniting Church (SSUC) on June 9. Small candles filled the early evening sanctuary with soft amber light. Worshippers, several sitting on floor cushions, sang short, simple songs punctuated by readings, prayers and silence.

Prior to the service a rehearsal was held for attendees to become familiar with the chants. The service was led by Canberra-based Anne Marie Nicol with Taizé singer and flautist Julie Spencer, SSUC pianist Heather Robinson, SSUC clarinetist Miriam Pepper and SSUC singer/keyboard player Claire Chehade-James.

The ecumenical event saw attendees of various ages and backgrounds including local parishioners, members from Pitt Street Uniting Church, the community of St Martin de Porres, Davidson, and well-known singer, songwriter and educator Trish Watts.

Attendees described the event as “spiritually refreshing” and “peaceful”. Carmel Smith from the Davidson community said, “The Spirit was really working”.

Claire Chehade-James hopes to hold further Taizé events in concert with other local churches. She said: “I had a transformative spiritual experience at a Taizé retreat led by Anne Marie Nicol, with musicians Julie Spencer, David Harman and Caroline Weller. I wanted to bring the authentic Taizé worship experience to the inner Sydney community.”

Taizé-style worship was developed by the Taizé community in Burgundy, France. Composed of more than 100 brothers (monks) from Catholic and Protestant traditions, the order was founded in 1940 by Brother Roger Schutz who wrote: “I discovered my Christian identity by reconciling within myself my Protestant origins and my faith in the Catholic Church.”

Brother Roger drew up the first rule of Taizé, summed up in the phrase: “Preserve at all times an interior silence to live in Christ’s presence and cultivate the spirit of the Beatitudes: joy, simplicity, mercy.” The ecumenism of Brother Roger and the Taizé movement is based on a kind of inclusiveness that focuses on things Christians have in common while neglecting to go into issues that could be divisive. Intercommunion is forbidden (only Catholic priests are allowed to celebrate the Eucharist).

Thousands of young people from all over the world visit Taizé every year. And churches of all denominations host Taizé-style worship events. Neither liberal nor conservative, Taizé’s appeal lies in its idealism – beauty, community, justice, peace.

French philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005), best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutics (philosophy of interpretation), was a regular visitor to the Taizé community’s Church of Reconciliation. Following a visit in Holy Week 2000, Ricoeur wrote a short reflection.

“What do I come looking for in Taizé? I would say to experience in some way what I believe most deeply, namely that what is generally called ‘religion’ has to do with goodness. To some extent the traditions of Christianity have forgotten this. There has been a kind of narrowing, an exclusive focus on guilt and evil. Not that I underestimate that problem, which was a great concern of mine for several decades. But what I need to verify is that however radical evil may be, it is not as deep as goodness. And if religion, if religions have a meaning, it is to liberate that core of goodness in human beings, to go looking for it where it has been completely buried.

“Now here in Taizé I see goodness breaking through, in the community life of the brothers, in their calm and discreet hospitality, and in the prayer. I see thousands of young people who do not express a conceptual articulation of good and evil, of God, of grace, of Jesus Christ, but who have a fundamental tropism towards goodness.

“I was reflecting recently on the figures of happiness in life. With respect to the created universe, the beautiful landscape in front of me, happiness is admiration. Then, a second figure, with respect to others: recognising others and, according to the nuptial model of the Song of Songs, it is jubilation. Then, a third figure of happiness, turned towards the future, is expectation: I still expect something from life. I hope to have courage to face the misfortune I am not aware of, but I still expect happiness. I use the word expectation, but I could use another word that comes from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, from the verse that introduces the famous chapter 13, on ‘love that understands everything, that excuses everything’. The verse says: ‘Aspire to the greatest gift.’ ‘Aspire’: that is the happiness of aspiring that completes the happiness of jubilation and the happiness of admiration.

“What strikes me here, in all the little daily services of the liturgy, in the meetings of all kinds, the dinners, the conversations, is the total absence of relationships of domination. At times I have the impression that, in the kind of patient and silent meticulousness that characterises all the acts of the members of the community, everyone obeys without anybody giving orders. This creates an impression of joyful service, how can I put it, of loving obedience, yes, of loving obedience, which is the complete opposite of submission and the complete opposite of an aimless meandering.

“This fairly narrow path between what I have just referred to as submission and meandering is broadly marked out by the life of the community. And we, the participants (not those who attend, but those who participate), as I feel myself to have been and to be here, benefit from it. We benefit from this loving obedience that we in our turn exercise with respect to the example that is given. The community does not impose a kind of intimidating model, but a kind of friendly exhortation. I like the word exhortation because here we are not in the order of commandments, still less of constraint, but neither are we in the order of mistrust and hesitation, which is the case today in professional life, in urban life, both in the workday world and in leisure time. It is this shared peacefulness that represents for me the happiness of life with the Taizé community.”

The Taizé community is currently led by Brother Alois, a German-born Catholic, who had been appointed by Brother Roger before his death in 2005.


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