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  • Taizé: Meditative Prayer (or Do We Really Have to Sing This Again?)

    Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

    Each Lent, we commit ourselves to a practice of prayerful candle lighting, a beloved tradition in our worship life. As a piece of the practice, we sing a short chant from the Taizé community – most often Jacques Berthier’s “Jesus, Remember Me.” Beautiful. But dare I say, predictable? Repetitive? Even tedious?

    While many people make pilgrimages to Taizé to experience the community and prayer life, Taizé worship as practiced in the monastic community cannot be simply imitated. However, it can and has been adapted by many Christian churches in the United States. Taizé worship includes Bible readings and meditative silence, but it is most known for short, repetitive, and prayerful songs, set to simple musical lines.

    Lent and Easter are behind us now, but we are offering another Taizé service in Ripley Chapel on June 12, honoring the return of God’s summer light. I thought I would take a moment to reflect on this sometimes opaque, but gloriously beautiful chant tradition.

    Taizé, (pronounced “teh-ZAY”), is currently a community of approximately 100 religious brothers, located in southern France. In July 1940, Roger Louis Schuz-Marsauche, then a Swiss Reformed minister, arrived in the tiny community of Taizé in southeastern France, approximately one hundred miles from the Swiss border. Brother Roger, as he became known, soon became involved with giving refuge to orphaned children and to hiding Jews fleeing Hitler’s Nazi atrocities during and immediately following WWII.

    84 years later, approximately 100,000 young adults between the ages of 18-30 make week-long retreats at Taizé from cultures spanning the globe. At select times of year, pilgrims of all ages are welcome to visit too. Becoming a spiritual destination for pilgrims was in no way the initial intent of the monastic community at Taizé; but, come they did, in amazing numbers.

    One passes through Taizé as one passes close to a spring of water. The traveler stops, quenches thirst and continues on the way.

    Pope John Paul II

    Repetition is not a new phenomenon nor unique to Taizé. The use of repetitive prayer has a firm place in the history of Christian supplication and liturgy (for example, the Rosary). What is unique to the prayer of Taizé is the adaptation of the repetitive form to simple musical lines and core biblical texts that can be sung by a whole assembly of various nationalities, languages, and denominations. The duration of these repetitive songs during prayer is not timed nor limited to a number of pre-calculated repetitions. The congregation immerses itself in the simple but profound harmonies and lets itself be carried by this sung prayer. Chants can be sung by an individual, by a choir or congregation, a cappella, or with an instrumental accompaniment.

    To open the gates of trust in God, nothing can replace the beauty of human voices united in song. This beauty can give us a glimpse of “heaven’s joy on earth.”

    Brother Roger

    Short songs, repeated again and again, using just a few words. These chants express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped. But the practice requires persistence – we break through layers of normal busy mind: exhaustion, judgment, boredom, and resistance. From my own experience, repetition can be challenging, subtly shifting from passionate declaration to mindless recitation. My spirit groans a little, and my mind searches for what is “next.” But I am reminded over and over again that a patient God gives us the gift of time and endless opportunity to return to the heart of the chant message. We deepen our expression of prayer. We live into God’s word. We open our hearts to God’s voice. Like Centering Prayer, meditative singing offers a way of listening to God. It allows us to pray together and to remain in attentive waiting on God.

    [Taizé] becomes another parable of communion, separate voices enriching one another while holding their uniqueness, all of them engaged in a common song.

    Journalist Stephanie Saldaña

    Please join us on Wednesday evening, June 12, 7:30 pm in Ripley Chapel. With open hearts, a band of singers and instrumentalists will lead us in common song, holding space for one another’s deepest prayers, and attentively waiting on God.


    Jane Ring Frank

    Minister of Worship and the Arts