I enjoyed the services at Taizé and their unhurried and meditative structure. But there was one thing I missed – sermons. Really! And liturgy. But mostly sermons. I think that’s what threw me off about Taizé worships – we weren’t always trying to answer the question of “what does this mean?” Instead, the focus was on simply being present with God and one another. I’m not so great with this. My mountaintop experiences – experiences that change the shape of your faith and split your journey into a “before” and “after” – happen when I’m in Christian community, yes, but it’s usually theological insights that leave me inspired, excited, close to God. Maybe because my relationship with God is one based on intellect rather than emotion. I don’t think that that’s necessarily a good thing. From my journal, June 5th:
“I’m often skeptical of emotion-based accounts of modern miracles or overwrought (at least what I see as overwrought) displays of emotion. Anything that involves spectacle or letting go completely and flying through the air while yelling to everyone still holding on that God will catch you and reward you for trusting (or testing?) Him provokes an automatic response within me, even physically. I draw into myself, turn away, and say This is not me. This is not my kind of faith. Maybe it works for them, but I’m too guarded. And Taizé is not about spectacle at all - the very opposite, really. But it is about emotion. So maybe I’d rather read about God than worship Him? No. Yes. Is that my purpose here? To learn how to stop my thoughts from going one hundred miles an hour and just be in the presence of God? I’ve always known that I’m a Martha, not a Mary…”
Did I succeed? Maybe a little. On Saturday after midday prayer I felt this compulsion to stay in the chapel after everyone else had left, simply to breathe and empty my mind. It was as though I were rooted to the floor. Of course, that brief peace only lasted until a lady dropped her camera beside me. It was then that I remembered that the chapel was open for visitors to take pictures from 1 PM till 2 PM. So I got up and left.
The second moment came during the service that evening. The congregation was lighting candles to symbolize the hope of the Resurrection. It’s one of those things – growing up in the church, I knew that we were supposed to eagerly await the coming of Easter Sunday during Holy Week, and I did. But there was always a part of me that thought, But this happens every year and we know it always will. But the service at Taizé was different. Since my group always sat at the front (very un-Lutheran), the flames took a while to reach us. Seeing the light in the church become brighter, and seeing the candle flames flickering as neighbours dipped theirs towards each other – it helped me to understand the anticipation associated with Easter and the Resurrection.
Rather anticlimactic now that I’ve written it down, but that’s what I have. I struggled a lot with this after Taizé – my journal entry on the flight home is six pages of me trying to answer the question “Why wasn’t there more?”
“The thing is, spending time with devout Christians in this sort of context, you hear a lot of amazing stories of ‘mountaintop experiences’. I’m so happy for those lucky enough to get them. But then I wonder – what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I have something to add? Or, not add. I must say, I would never brag about an experience like that- that’s not why I want to hear God. Just something to ‘ponder in my heart’ rather than scrounging around my memory for something to pull out as a meaningful moment from Taizé and feel like I’m faking something.
“And part of me says that maybe I should just try harder – like I need to run a little faster and I’ll catch God and He’ll say something. Pray more, read the Bible more, listen more. I will, not for the reward but because it’s just something I want to do. One of my favourite verses from the Bible:
‘I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!’ “
- Hannah Shirtliff