A visit to Taize: The next best thing to being there

Anyone who has been to the Church of Reconciliation in the small French village of Taizé and worshiped there with Christians from all over the world, knows what an unforgettable experience it is. But translating extraordinary worship experiences to our own communities and congregations is notoriously difficult. Praise God, then, for the brothers at Taizé, who have brought their music and their style of meditative and ecumenical worship to other Christians around the world and made their knowledge available in print and at their website (http://www.taize.fr).

The design of the site is hospitable, just as you would expect from a community that hosts thousands of people each week. After choosing one of eighteen languages (!) in which to browse this site’s treasures, you can learn about the history of the community. Or you can submit requests or download devotional material. Or you can arrange to go to Taizé yourself—the site offers directions by plane, train, or shuttle and explains the weekly programs available for visitors. There’s even a page for online registration.

But most folks who visit Taizé (or Taizé’s website, for that matter) come to worship or to learn about worship. And here they can find rich resources, both theoretical and practical.

Brother Roger, the founder of the community, writes beautifully about the simple, contemplative style that characterizes the services of Taizé:

Nothing is more conducive to a communion with the living God than a meditative common prayer with, at its high point, singing that never ends and that continues in the silence of one’s heart when one is alone again. When the mystery of God becomes tangible through the simple beauty of symbols, when it is not smothered by too many words, then prayer with others, far from exuding monotony and boredom, awakens us to heaven’s joy on earth.

To help congregations worship in this style, this site offers a page called “preparing a prayer” which goes step by step through a Taizé-like prayer service, explaining each element and offering practical advice. (“It is preferable that all participants face the same direction.” “It is best to have just one fairly long period of silence rather than several shorter ones.”) The general pattern is then fleshed out in a sample service, including prayers and Scripture readings.

The most important element in a Taizé service is the music. Most all of the songs that make up this rich repertoire were composed by Jacques Berthier. They are simultaneously simple and complex, meant to be repeated again and again. The site notes: “Using just a few words, [these songs] express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind. As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being. Meditative singing thus becomes a way of listening to God.”

The site offers clear links to those who sell songbooks, CDs, and videos, and to those who handle Taizé licensing worldwide (in North America it’s GIA Publications). But unlike other worship resource sites, what is remarkable at this site is the availability of this music online.

Want to know what a particular song sounds like? At the page labeled “Learning the Songs” there is a list of approximately seventy-five Taizé songs (the list will eventually be comprehensive). Clicking on one of these links brings on screen a simple SATB score for that song. Click on one of the buttons on the left to hear one of the four parts alone, on another to hear all four parts together, or click on another button to hear the whole song complete with selected instrumental descants.

Admittedly, what you hear—a MIDI approximation of what the song might sound like if played and sung by real instruments and people—is not too worshipful. But if you want a clearer sound-picture, there are links to recordings of the songs being used, alongside Scripture, in daily prayer at Taizé. These files (twelve minutes long!) are available as .MP3, .wav, or .RA formats. For men dedicated to simplicity, the brothers of Taizé aren’t Luddites—they have the right links for you to download the software to hear these files if your computer isn’t already set up to do so.

This meditative, prayerful music is especially appropriate to use during the meditative, prayerful season of Lent. And if you’re unable to visit Taizé to see what all the fuss is about, visiting their website is the next best thing to being there.

Excerpt
Taizé Music in RW

1. “Eat This Bread” 19:45
2. “Gloria, Gloria” 45:33
3. “In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful” 57:33
4. “Live in Charity (Ubi caritas)” 56:22
5. “My Peace I Leave with You” 10:4
6. “O Lord, Hear My Prayer” 8:28; 46:22; 52:12
7. “O Poverty” 46:22
8. “Prepare the Way of the Lord” 33:26
9. “Salvator mundi” 46:22
10. “Stay with Me” 46:23
11. “Wait for the Lord” 46:22

Ron Rienstra is associate professor of preaching and worship arts at Western Theological Seminary and co-author of Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry (Baker Academic, 2009).