Wednesday, June 5, 2013

From Texas to Taizé: Living in Community

Welcome to chapter two on my journey to Taizé with many very cool people from the Central Texas Conference, a pilgrimage led by Bishop Mike Lowry and Rev. Dr. Larry Duggins of the Missional Wisdom Foundation.  For a few words on the worship life, check out chapter 1.  In this chapter we'll discuss living in community, not just with the brothers, but with a global community of those seeking the Holy Spirit together.  What is it like to stay at Taizé?  How about the food?  What do you study?  Here's a bit of a breakdown of what it was like to live in Taizé for a week.

The Living Situation

For my wife and I, , the single most important element of our apprehension when it came to the buildup to our ten day trip to France had to deal with leaving our boy in the States for that long.  We had it all worked out, the grandparents did a great and loving job taking care of Wes while we were away.

What was the second most apprehensive item on the list?  Living in community with a bunch of European strangers for a week.  I know, that's the whole point, right?  I'd been on mission trips before with work teams with other churches and it was totally amazing.  But this was different.  I mean, we knew we would be staying in dorms, but there were a couple of clear dividing lines to get over right away.

1)  The community of Taizé divides pilgrims into 30 and up and 29 and younger.  Adults have dorms on one side of the community and the young adults (on down to late teenagers) have their own dorms.  A major goal of the community is to reach young adults and get them motivated to lead a God-following movement of reconciliation and hope at home.  At 31, I knew I'd be with the adults.  The adults also had separate food and small group studies.

2)  Probably the most obvious one, the dorms are also separated by gender.

I should also say, there are quite a few living options at Taizé ... Do you want to camp out?  Do you want to drive in the family RV?   Do you want to sleep in a dorm with a bunch of people you don't know?  Do you want a single room to yourself?  There are many possibilities.

Three other guys from Texas and myself bunked up in the dorm you see pictured of to the left.   It was essentially two rooms with three sets of bunk beds on each side.  A pony wall divided the rooms and there was a radiator for heat in between.  Our roommates?  Six Germans and a Frenchman that joined us on Wednesday.  They were already set up for the most part when we arrived, but we soon found that we had a lot in common - namely, the English language.

This single thing was revelatory to me.  As an American, we don't put much stock in learning languages other than English.  Sure, I live in Texas and at least a rudimentary understanding of Spanish is beneficial.  It was amazing and fascinating to instantly have a bond over common language with these guys.  Of course, we were all pilgrims as well, some there of their own accord (one man was there with his father), and some had escorted other young adults like us.  But all of us were there to pray.  Being able to meet in the middle on language made things very smooth for us, and we had frequent conversations on church, life, and culture late into the night.  We even had a noise complaint from the room next door.  Yeah, that even happens at Taizé.

And one of the coolest things about staying in community was seeing how our group of young adults flourished in the setting, getting to know people from around the world.  Most of them even enjoyed doing their chores and the opportunity that gave to serve the community and others.  That was amazing to witness.

The Food!
"The key to simplicity is offering fewer choices - not more." - Bishop Lowry, during lunch on day five
Food was simple.  After morning prayer, we received a simple breakfast of a baguette and jam with instant coffee or hot chocolate.  Lunch and dinner were served in the same place, with hearty food, but a little light on protein.  The food was not complicated, couscous, lentils, and beans were staples, as well as generous servings of bread and cheese.  I have to eat gluten-free, so I mostly survived on high-protein granola bars that I brought with me.  Although, there was plenty of food for even me to eat - you aren't going to go hungry at Taizé.  It's kind of a physical place for as much time for prayer that is given.  You walk everywhere, there are many hills and lots to explore.  The food, simple as it is (but well seasoned!), fortifies you to live in the community.

The tent pictured here was were I and the other adults ate three times a day for a week.  Food was served by volunteers (everybody who stays at Taizé gets assigned some kind of chore to serve others and help the community with up keep, Bishop Lowry served me breakfast at least once).  We learned early on that volunteers were the life blood of the community, especially those called 'permanents', or those who stayed more than week.  Those that choose to stay longer (some for several months).  Our meal crews were lead by two such permanents, one lady from Germany, one from France.  Not only did they coordinate the crews, but they led us in singing our grace before every meal.

If you needed a snack, fresh coffee, or a little wine to drink, you walked over to the Oyak, the social hub of the community.  Only open a few hours a day, it was a fun place to decompress after evening worship.  It was also the only place alcohol was served on the campus, for adults over  18.


As my wife would say, I'm very particular when it comes to a shower.  I'll be honest about that.  And showering at Taizé was a bit of a worry in advance of the trip.  I don't need to say a lot about it, other than the showers were much nicer than I'd expected.  Individual stalls with doors, with a small dressing area inside the stall for your clothes and toiletries.  Even though you live communally, the Brothers have set up situations to preserve modesty.  This American really appreciated it.  And the water was hot.  Couldn't have asked for more than that.

Small Group Study

Along with the dorms and the food, the other thing that was contextualized by generation was the small group study time, or 'meetings' as they're called in the community.  There were many options, meeting the needs of all present.  While there was a study set up for those over 30, Leanne and I chose to attend a special study for those from 25 to 35 with a couple of others from Texas.  We were there with 50 or 60 others from around the world, and we were led by Brother Jean Patrick from India.  We were thankful that he led in English, probably the most commonly spoken language at Taizé our week (other than French and German).  Following the larger session after breakfast, Brother Jean Patrick broke us up in to smaller groups of 5 or 6 to meet in the afternoon and discuss the scripture for the day.

For us, the message for the week was to focus on the call of the Lord in Mary, Abraham, and in those that flocked to Jesus - their call to be obedient believers, no matter their questions and no matter where that call would take them.  It was interesting in that we had all been called to Taizé for various reasons, seeking the presence of the Holy Spirit above all.

For more info on taking a trip to, and staying in Taizé, check this out.