The advantage to blogging in a Starbucks instead of at home – for some reason it’s a lot harder to shut your laptop and walk away when you really don’t want to write or hit “Publish Post” (even with a bookstore right next door).
I hope Part One made a bit of sense. And if it didn’t, maybe it captured my mindset at the time even better. Part Two was intended to be a collection of reflections about various aspects of Taizé, but in order to keep the entries at a manageable length, I’ll be breaking up my reflections even further.
On Bible Study
This is probably an indication of how little I’d travelled outside of North America before I went to Taizé, but when the website described how the Taizé community was a draw for young people from around the world, somehow I never realized that not everyone would speak English very well or at all. I didn’t anticipate being in a small-group Bible Study where three different languages were spoken. And I really didn’t anticipate accidentally becoming the leader of this group!
As I’ve already noted, I have a lot of difficulty talking about my faith with others, especially people I’ve just met. Another problem with Bible studies comes from a combination of growing up in the church and how often I simply tell people what I feel that they want/expect to hear. With a lot of questions in Bible studies (especially when they’re very simple, as ours were), there’s a “right” answer. And by “right” I mean an answer that teenagers who don’t like to talk about their faith can quickly pick out as an uncontroversial position so that everyone else can say “Yep, I agree,” and we can move on to the next question and repeat the process. There were a lot of those questions in the Taizé Bible studies. I understand their reasons for keeping them simple. When the language the group chooses to communicate in isn’t everyone’s first language, it’s probably best not to complicate things more than necessary.
After an awkward first two days, I decided to act like a little more of a leader. I guessed that if I was disappointed in the experience thus far, I probably wasn’t the only one. During worship on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, I prayed for the strength to be vulnerable, so that the others could do the same and we could actually have a meaningful conversation. I wanted to lead the conversation “off script” and away from the simple questions on our worksheets. And it actually succeeded! At least for the two other people in my group who spoke fluent English. The three Polish boys mostly just listened, but said that they understood everything. Thursday and Saturday were difficult again, as we were joined by a few German girls who didn’t understand a word of English (and I don’t understand a word of German), and facilitating a group conversation is difficult when everything has to be translated. There were a lot of silences where we all just shuffled our papers around.
Friday’s Bible Study was probably the most meaningful for me, and we didn’t even talk!
“Some things,” Brother Jasper declared before sending us into our small groups, “can only be understood through the silence of prayer.” He then told us to go somewhere in our small group and sit in silence together, since,
“In this way, if you are together, you can encourage each other, yes? Even if you cannot speak. For example, you may want to talk, but then you see the person beside you is still silent, and you think ‘Oh, he is a very stupid person, but if he can stay silent so can I, and I am not nearly so stupid.”
He wanted us to stay silent for fifty minutes and meditate on the Bible passage Matthew 26:36-46 (Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane). My group sat in the tiny dark Orthodox Chapel and I set a timer on my phone for fifty minutes. The worksheet said to “make a list of situations (past or present) when you were faced with a big decision and you could not manage it alone.” I made my list in my journal. As I looked it over, I realized that for most of those decisions, I couldn’t recall asking God for help. The next prompt on the worksheet was to write a simple prayer.
Help me now. Open my heart and let me put my life in Your hands. You know all the secrets of my soul, all my abilities and shortcomings. I ask others for help but only You know the path that is laid out for me. Set me on this path so that I may do what You want, not what I want.
Quotes from Brother Jasper (Bible Study Leader)
“Taizé is like IKEA – you need to put in work to get what you want. It is not like going up a high mountain and meeting with gurus who tell you what to do with your life.”
“Say I see Brother John walk out of my room, and I go in and find that – what do I have in my room that someone would want to take? Well, I have a very nice plant. Brother John does not have nearly as nice of a plant. So… no, never mind, that doesn’t work. Forget that.”
On relationships and faith:
“If you say ‘Oh yes, I trust this person because I know everything about them and nothing that they do will ever surprise me,’ then you are reducing that person to an object, like this bench, where you say ‘Oh, I will sit on this bench and it will support me,’ although this is Taizé quality so maybe not… Anyway, faith is like this too. Mary did not know God completely, she did not understand everything, but she trusted Him just a little bit, yes? And when we choose to become Christians, we do not look at a list and go ‘Okay, I believe this and this and this and then I have faith.’ Some people think that Christians are stupid, that we shut off our brains and only believe what we are taught. This is not true. We are always questioning and trying to know God better, trying to understand the workings of the Holy Spirit.”
– Hannah Shirtliff