I’m spending the next four days at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota as part of the Taize Pilgrimage of Trust. I’m joined here by 3 others from my church along with thousands of Christian pilgrims 18-35 from around the world as well as the brothers from the Taize Monastic Community in Burgundy, France.
The Taize Community was started by Brother Roger Schultz, himself a Swiss Reformed Protestant, in 1940 as an ecumenical monastery that would in its life together embody peace and reconciliation in postwar Europe.
What started as a small band of brothers from Catholic and Protestant denominations quickly grew to attract over 100,000 ‘pilgrims’ every year for a week at time. These pilgrims come from all over the globe, are primarily youth and young adults and for 7 days seamlessly integrate into the community’s weekly rhythm of fixed hour prayer (worship), bible study, and work.
As I tell people, think ‘Woodstock crossed with a Medieval Monastery.’
Every year the brothers of Taize take their community on the road in order to reconnect with former pilgrims and welcome others who might not be able to make the trek to rural France.
I’ve been to Taize a couple times in the past. The following are my journal reflections from my first pilgrimage.
One of the brothers here yesterday described the community here as the hub or the spoke around which the entire world revolves. ‘We think of our community as the engine that keeps the world running’ he said.
And by ‘community’ he meant the the community’s rhythm of thrice a day prayer and worship. That if they stopped worshipping the world would cease spinning. Their worship, he believes, is what they owe the world.
It’s their vocation.
My first gut reaction to hearing him describe the world and worship this way was to dismiss it as so much pious speech.
That this was my first reaction I feel exposes something, a deficiency, in or about me.
As any good seminary student learns early on, ‘liturgy’ means literally ‘the work of the people.’ The work of the laos NOT the clergy. I don’t know if I’ve ever really grasped what this means until I came here.
Too much or too often our worship is not work (even though it can sometimes feel like work to endure a worship service). Seldom though do we think of our worship as work- as something we do for another.
What I mean is: our worship is most often driven by what people in the pews like or want. We evaluate worship based on its utility, based on what I want, how it makes me feel, whether it ‘feeds’ me or I got something out of it.
And just because I don’t sit in the pews doesn’t mean I’m not guilty too. I cater to that same utilitarian impulse with topical sermon series meant to get people’s attention while other pastors pack secular wisdom into the guise of sermons with series like ‘5 Biblical Principles for a Better Marriage.’
The unspoken goal of most worship is the experience it creates in the worshipper; liturgy becomes instead the work of the clergy for the benefit of the laity. Worship is to serve the needs of the people there. Why else would ‘performance’ be such a strong element of worship be it the choir standing up front as they would in a musical or a band playing on stage as they would at a concert?
What would it be like for a congregation to believe as firmly as Brother Whathisname that if they stopped regular worship their surrounding community would cease to exist? What would it be like for a congregation to gather every Sunday morning in the conviction that ‘this is the work we do on behalf of our little patch of the world?’
The worship here at Taize shouldn’t be so appealing to so many young people.
While all the chants sung here, which make up almost the entirety of the worship, are dated from the late ’50’s on (making them more contemporary than most traditional hymns) the sound is decidedly ancient.
There are no song leaders, no visible cantors, no choir or band up front to lead us. Nothing sounds remotely like anything you’d hear on the radio and yet thousands of people younger than me are sitting on their butts for nearly 5 hours a day singing strange, archaic-sounding music.
The appeal, I think, is the brothers’ conviction that the world needs their worship as much as a body needs water.