In the beginning…

Taize village with signAfter supper I took a walk down the lane past the Welcome Center and round the bend where the town of Taize— with its cobblestone walls and bursts of foxgloves and wildflowers— still lived and breathed, in no small measure due to the still, small voice in the heart of Brother Roger, the founder of the Taize community. As a college student in Switzerland, at a time when he was still wrestling between what seemed to be disparate futures as a writer or a theologian, he was asked to head up the Student Christian Association. He found it an odd request since he’d only been to one meeting and didn’t particularly like it, but he accepted, a curious assent that quickly led to the formation of his lifelong ideals. “He devised a series of Bible Studies that focused on the foundation of faith and prayer as a means to search for God,” according to Jason Brian Santos in his book A Community Called Taize. Stephan had recommended the book to me when we checked in. “He’s an American writer, too!!”

Soon the young Swiss college group grew and within a year there were twenty students meeting regularly for prayer, silence, meditation and confession; Roger had stripped his protestant faith down to the core, focusing only on what it meant to lead a Christ-centered life in community with others. He began dreaming of a house where this might be lived out and, at the end of the war, he found that is was time. “The defeat of France awoke powerful sympathy,” Brother Roger wrote years later. “If a house could be found there, of the kind we had dreamed of, it would offer a possible way of assisting some of those most discouraged, those deprived of work; and it could become a place of silence and work.”

Cobblestone and flowers

Young Roger tried to get people from his school community to join him but they declined. And so he set out on his bicycle, riding through the Burgundy region of France where many refugees— particularly Jews— were fleeing. After a visit to the monastery in Cluny, he heard about a nearby town called Taize. It was a sad and desolate village. An old woman who lived in one of the homes showed him the property that was for sale. He stayed with her for a meal and when he shared his vision for a community of faith, she begged him to stay. He bought the house for a pittance and started a garden that would provide food for those who began to show up on his doorstep. And although he prayed three times a day, and sang hymns in the countryside nearby, he never asked the refugees to join him. Instead he wrote up a little pamphlet that described his understanding of what he was trying to do and be and the community he hoped to create. “Every day let your work and rest be quickened by the Word of God; keep inner silence in all things and you will dwell in Christ; be filled with the spirit of the Beatitudes: joy, simplicity, and mercy.”

monastic mural

Based on excerpts from Jason Brian Santos’ “A Community called Taize”

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