Warning 1: This is a snobbishly serious english post. Nosebleed.
Warning 2: It is very important to visit this link first to know more about Taizé and understand what I’m about to say.
I went and stayed at Taizé for four days, together with Père Manuel, two adult monitors and some teenagers from La Mure. At the very beginning of the journey, it felt like it’s a roadtrip to hell. Or at least for a magpie like me. Not only do I barely speak French, but I also can’t keep up with the conversations of these kids who seemed to be hyperventilating their elisions and liaisons through any given topic. Sometimes, I just felt plain stupid trying to weave through their speech, grasping no more than a word or two to give me the flimsiest clue of what they’re talking about.
That’s why, when I learned about the special group for Anglophones, I immediately grabbed the opportunity to make this Taizé experience truly meaningful. I left my morning post as an animator for the “petits groupes” (much to the disappointment of Pére Manuel) and hobnobbed with those who can truly compose a real English sentence and pronounce it correctly. The Taizé experience is just too good to be lost in translation (or the virtual lack of).
Out of the 3,000 people in Taizé that time ( French youth mostly), there was only about 20 Anglophones present, and I was surprised how motley our group was: There were Germans (who were protestant theologians and church leaders), Norwegian social workers, a Swedish Taizé volunteer, student-hitchhikers from Netherlands, a Brazilian, an Indonesian Catholic youth leader, a Russian Parisienne, etc, etc… and of course, me, a Filipino. In fact, even the Taizé brother who gave us a talk is an American of Puerto Rican descent. Sure enough, this variety of culture has brought a lively exchange of varied experiences and ideas among us, which, on the bottomline, surprisingly shares so many common essential elements.
One of the themes of these meeting of Anglophones focused on the Incarnation of God. A Gospel reflection was made from Luke 2:8-20 which speaks of the adoration of the infant Jesus by the shepherds. Br. Hector of Taizé then lead us to recall our Christmas experiences and traditions. Indeed, each of us has something to share about Christmas but I was quite surprised that the warmest and most intimate Christmas memory was that of Ralph (not his real name). Ralph, you see, is an atheist. I had a notion of what atheists are before, basing on the some “atheists” who left ignorant comments on my blog and I, of course, deleted. But Ralph changed all my negative image of an atheist: Yes, he doesn’t believe in the existence of God but then he doesn’t argue with or taunt anyone about religion, he’s genuinely open to the opinion of others regarding faith, he’s not fumingly angry with the Church and he is not afraid to explore and experience Taizé, a Christian place of dialogue and prayer. The fact that he doesn’t think there’s God hasn’t hinder himself to be trully generous, open and brotherly. What’s more, I, for one, secretly wished I had a Christmas as happy and as memorable as his.
During our small group discussion, we were asked to reflect on a statement which roughly goes like this: “When all things in my life seems lost, God is my sure refuge.” Or something like that, I already forgot. Ralph, as expected, had a problem with the word “God” and so found it hard to make a reflection out of the statement. I then suggested that he could probably substitute a word for God like Love or Peace or Justice or Family… He paused for a short while and gave a confident reply. He said, it will be, for him, his experience of Christmas. He then explained that it’s because Christmas reminds him of home and family, the experience of unconditonal love and acceptance, the act of giving and receiving gifts, the warmth, the joyful expectation of being reunited with loved ones and gathering for meals…
His description of Christmas was surprisingly very Christian, as each of his words aptly describe an authentic life with Christ: a homecoming, a feasting, a welcoming, the spirit of thankfulness, sharing and acceptance. In my Catholic world, this is the very essence of a Eucharistic life.
Truth to tell, I never suggested to Ralph how his Christmas experience translates to the experience of God. I don’t want to impose my religion to this young man’s journey, especially when there’s so much going on in his heart which I myself do not understand and so must not interfere. Nevertheless, within me, I am thankful to this young man who unknowingly reminded me of what truly God is all about. It’s a shame how we, Christians, celebrate the major Christian feasts without truly experiencing their rich and life-changing significance. I guess, it took an atheist to remind me all that, and as Frère Roger, the founder of Taizé succinctly said, God is love, and love alone. Nothing else…
If you read this article in its entirety…
then your reward is this:
My photos of the stainglass windows of the church of Taizé!