taizé worship

taizé worship

06 Dec 2005

is beautiful

Today, for the first time, I attended a short Taizé worship service. In the run up to their annual youth conference, the Taizé order is holding short, daily, lunchtime prayer and worship services. Never having attended Taizé worship and never having worshiped in a Roman Catholic church, I was apprehensive.

The congregants sat either in the pews or on the ground. The Taizé brothers, in their white robes, were at the front of the pews, either kneeling on the floor or sitting on low stools. Everyone faced forward. Up a few steps, were two posters -- one of Mary and baby Jesus and the other of Jesus on the cross. Tealight candles burned in front of the posters.

Before the service, everyone sat quietly. Taizé songbooks were placed on the pews. The brothers came in one at a time. To one side, a series of large, handwritten numbers proclaimed with songs would be sung. The songs were not otherwise announced.

The prayer began. No call to worship or announcements. No "Let us pray together. Let us pray." One of the brothers simply started singing and everyone else joined in. There were no musical instruments, only voices.

The songs were all short and repeated many times, in a form of meditation. Between songs there was silence, a scripture reading (in two languages), prayer (also repeated in two languages) or simply a pause while the microphone was passed to the appropriate brother.

At one point, nearer the end of the service, it was quitely announced that due the the Saint Ambrose festival, there would be no prayer meetings for the next two days.

The service seemed to be a refuge, a quiet place of meditation before God. The Taizé songbook said something about the best way to be with God was in corporate, meditative prayer--and there may be something in that. The experience was beautiful and those in attendance seemed to be completely dedication to God.

Despite all this, I was not completely at ease. I suppose there's too much dutch reformation in me. While it was refreshing to not look at the songleaders during worship, having pictures of God to replace them does not sit well with me. We are forbidden to worship any idol or make an idol in the form of God. Even if there are some situations where images of Jesus are fine and dandy, this probably isn't one of them.

I don't remember all the songs that were sung, but one of them was a cry for mercy and another went along the lines of "The Lord can only show mercy". I apprecate the reminder that we need the mercy of God and that we should prostrate ourselves before Him, but neither of these two prayers remind us that God has promised to show mercy. Instead of crying for mercy and receiving comfort from God's promise to be merciful, it sounds more like crying for mercy followed by an assertion that God will show mercy because He can do nothing else. The prayers could have been spoken into the void--there was no assertion that God has heard. If God can only show mercy, then there is little need to hear Him speak.

The service ended as plainly as it had started. The final hymn was a magnificat, and incidentally the only one I sang only with. Before the last verse, the brothers got up and filed away. After the singing ended, those involved in Taizé (lay-Taizé-ites?) rolled up the carpets from the floor, extinguished the candles and carried away the images.

The simplicity and humility of the service were amazing. It was a great contrast to my background, where the form of the service is emphasized in small and little ways--we are called to worship, each prayer is prefaced by a call to prayer, every hymn is announced. The form was simple and they simply got on with the worship.

Though I have quarreled with some of the songs, notice that I am quarreling with the content of the songs. The songs were very close to scripture and much better than the worship songs that we evangelicals like to foist on ourselves.

I loved the quiet. There was no chatter for the assembly. At one point there was a long silence and no one dictated what sort of thoughts we were supposed to have. A time of quiet and meditation, to rest in the awareness of God.