Tuesday, 2 June 2009
At Lyon our bodies began to protest at their treatment over the past few weeks. I developed a pain in my right shin. Clemency's feet began to swell. Strange how that works isn't it? When the pressure comes off, the body knows it can shut down and repair some of the damage. The trip to Taize through the Burgundy countryside is stunningly beautiful, and the village of Taize itself is chocolate box perfection; a group of large and immaculately kept old farmhouses gathered round a small, ancient church on a hillside overlooking rolling hills. White cattle, soft green woods, vineyards. You know, perfection. The trip was rendered slightly less wonderful by the growing pain in our lower limbs. On the day after our arrival my left ankle came out in sympathy by producing the worst case of gout I have ever had. I spent the first evening in a wheelchair.The atrocious Taize food didn't help of course, but in reality it was all the inner systems telling me 'time to stop, lad'. Not that I listened, of course. I took anti inflammatories instead. The pills worked a treat and the swelling and pain disappeared within hours, so the body had to switch to plan B - give me such a reaction to the medication that my digestive system was laid waste for two more days. Which all altered my Taize experience somewhat. Made it, perhaps, what God intended.
Taize community is only incidentally related to the village in which it is set. The community facility is huge, and, somewhat basic. In terms of facilities, think youth camp. Think diocesan ministry school in a bad budget year. After more than 30 years of continuous ministry some of the major programmes and much of the housing still takes place in tents. You need to think size as well. I'd guess that the trip to Tent F and then to the church from our room was about a kilometre: tricky on dodgy ankles.There are about a hundred brothers in the community who live I never quite found out where, and in everyday Taize life, they are seldom seen. The entire programme is run by volunteers who give a year of their lives to making one of the world's greatest and most important spiritual centres function. And it does function. Smoothly. Miraculously, even, considering the numbers involved. There an ever changing population of a couple of thousand people constantly present. Most of these are young,and all are housed, fed, and nurtured for the short time they are part of the community. Many go away with their lives changed forever by their experience in the Burgundy countryside. In Tent F, the geriatric wing, there is a programme for those over 30, who number only a few hundred. We all arrive, we are given a room (ours a basic but quite spacious double room with a nice view and a hand basin). We all help with the running of the facility, we attend Bible studies and 'meetings' - small group discussions on a variety of topics. The young people take part in the sorts of activities which youth camps have been doing for years; in Taize's case, more than 30 years, continuously. And we worship.
Not many churches can claim an attendance record of several thousand, three times a day, seven days a week continuously for more than 3 decades. People don't come for the facilities or even the programme. It is the worship which brings people to Taize. I want to say more about the worship later, but for now, I will tell you that God and my body conspired to let me worship, sample all of Taize's life and give me PLENTY of time for reflection. Perfect.