The first time I ever heard a chant from Taize I was not even remotely a Christian. I was a young mother of a four-year old, and an 8-month old who had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Brain tumors tend to make smart, sophisticated secularists get down on their knees and beg like babies. As my daughter lay in a hospital bed at UCLA, someone told me about a special prayer service at a nearby church: All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills. Huh. Strange. That was the church where I had been baptized and confirmed—not that any of that had stuck. So off I went to the Wednesday evening service. It was packed. I couldn’t figure out when the special prayer part was. I couldn’t figure out how to follow the bulletin (which, at the time, I didn’t know was called a bulletin). By the time I could find any of the hymns in the book, they were on the last verse. But then the people started singing the simplest, most hauntingly beautiful refrain I’d ever heard. “Jesus remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” Again and again they sang it til even I could not resist joining in. The people began to process forward for—what? Communion. Yes, communion. And we sang and we walked and it was warm and safe and for a moment I brushed up against the mystery of faith. That was 17 years ago. That was my first experience of Taize.
This wasn’t something I spent much time thinking about. My life of raising kids and writing from home hardly left enough in the discretionary travel fund to support this kind of daydreaming. Then last fall, my aunt said to me —out of nowhere—”Next year you’ll be turning 50 and I’ll be turning 70 and I would like to take you on a trip to celebrate. Anywhere you want to go. You name it and we’ll go there.” My mind didn’t go blank. I didn’t feel any longings to spend the week scouring travel sites or asking friends for recommendations. I didn’t even stop to run the numbers on, say, a trip I’d have a hard time affording on my own vs. say, a trip it was safe to assume I wouldn’t be taking in this lifetime. I simply reached back into the one file I had open in my brain that contained the words “one day I’d really like to go there” and there it was. “Taize,” I said. “I’d like to go to Taize.”