Pilgrims: a selection of personal stories from members of St Philip's

Four days in Taizé

by Liz Drysdale, 2006

Here are a few impressions of my four days in Taizé in November 2006. (I also contacted Dimitri Markotsis who had visited a Taizé couple of years before, in the European Summer; Dimitri's experience and mine were a bit different because of the time of year (as well as our ages!). He was there in summer with thousands of young people. I was there with an Australian friend from Wednesday to Sunday in the third week of November, and until Friday there were only about 40 of us there. This was a lovely intimate experience (as he had suggested it might be) and perhaps for an old girl more congenial than the summer thousands (though that must have a power of its own).

One thing that especially resonated with me from Dimitri's email was sharing the experience with people from all over the world In our small dormitory over the four days there were Aussies, Germans and Chinese, and I quickly became close to a group of three 'Asia Pacific' religious from Rome — a Papua New Guinean nun from Rabaul, a Korean nun and an Indonesian priest. When they left, I became part of the Spanish gang, and also became very fond our Polish volunteer who took care of our meal times, and of a 'Taizé couple' — an Italian and a Croatian who had met at Taizé some years earlier, are now married and go back often. We were led in singing practice by two Dutch girls, and in Bible introduction (much more fun than I expected!) by a French Taizé brother.

When it was time for us to meet in national or language groups with one of the brothers, we two Aussies were sent to meet with Brother André from Indonesia because we were from the Asian region, and not with the Americans or the English.

The group I belonged to for discussion after Bible introduction (we were indeed the 'elders', and we had so much fun) were nearly all Spanish, and a lovely woman called Susana interpreted for the 2 or 3 English speakers in the group. There was something wonderful about sharing inner feelings with these people across a language barrier.

One of the things I loved was the slow and careful rhythm of the talk in both Bible introduction and the discussion ('sharing') sessions, with pauses for translation after every few sentences. For some reason I found this very moving.

The rhythm of the day was another lovely thing: moving from the glorious singing in the church to the simple but tasty and friendly meals (and powdered hot chocolate and powdered lemon tea!) preceded by a sung Taizé grace, and then on to some group activity — Bible introduction, discussion, singing practice, a video about Brother Roger or Taizé, or a group chore like washing up (never was a chore so hilarious!).

There were times in between for walks in the lovely garden with its 'source' (waterfall with healing properties), its lake, its little chapel hut and its glorious late autumn leaves. I always felt that these walks were very private times of reflection for people, so we would smile and exchange a word but move on quietly.

One morning after getting up early to say goodbye to my 'Asia Pacific' friends from Rome (and seeing their bus take off just after I got to the bus stop), I walked into the village to the little church and the graveyard where Brother Roger and other brothers are buried.

Another place I spent a lot of time in was the 'Exposition' — the shop where the brothers display and sell things they have made — pottery, art works, cards, music, books. The revenue from these sales is what funds the community, which does not accept donations.

A favourite thing of mine was the bells (a row of five above one of the buildings); not just to hear them but to see them swinging as we walked from the dormitory or the garden to the church.

One of the hardest things to put into words is the experience of being in the church. So many things are indescribably beautiful: the orange 'sails' that soar into the sanctuary; the ingenious honeycomb-like sanctuary structure with a candle in each opening, and the sight of someone putting out each of the many candies one by one at the end of the service; the column of white-robed brothers processing into and out of the church; the voices of the brothers, solo and in chorus, and the female solo voices; the words of the songs and the sound of us all singing them; the silence at the end, when those of us who can't bear to leave have stayed sitting or kneeling on the little wooden stools, the brothers and most of the others have gone, the candles are out and the singing has finally stopped.

And like bookends to the four days, the arriving and not knowing what to expect, unable to believe you are actually there, and then the leaving, with such memories, only being able to bear it because of the parting message of the brothers that it would be OK to leave, even though we might not think so: "It's OK: go back to your Galilee. Il est là (He is there)", and the lovely bus ride through the hills and villages.