What always surprises us about Taizé is that in many ways it never changes, yet in other ways it is different every time we drop by. It is a place that draws thousands of young people and a good number of older ones too, from all over the world. In an age where traditional religious observance is declining fast, Taizé is growing. This is happening with no deliberate intention on the part of the Taizé brothers. It is almost as though it has just happened and they are responding to it. It obviously appeals to something in people that isn’t being met elsewhere. For us it is the simplicity, the silence and the music. It is the total lack of judgmental teaching and a simple acceptance of humanity in all its variety and problems. No-one asks you to believe any particular doctrine or follow any particular denomination. Just come in, breathe in the peace, sing a few repetitive chants, join in whatever is happening if you want, otherwise just be there. I should also say that it isn’t for everyone. If you go and spend a week there on retreat you have to accept a most basic experience with the simplest of food, basic accommodation, unless you bring a motorhome or caravan, hundreds, or often thousands of teenagers and young adults. If you’re tolerance for teenagers is low this might not be the right place for you because this is a place that puts them first.
On this occasion we were only there for a few hours. It is early in the season and still cold so we were astonished at the crowds of teenagers. The place was very busy in a laid back, peaceful kind of way. Arriving in the church for the evening prayer we saw a group of about twenty of the youngsters plugging in their mobile phones to a long string of multiple extension leads creating a death defying spaghetti of wires. They then sat around the bundle of phones and joined in the singing and the silence with genuine involvement until a loud pop made some of the girls squeak. We were relieved that they hadn’t fused the whole place or set anyone alight. Absolutely no-one came and told them off. They are encouraged to take a break from their phones if they can but if they can’t no-one will reprimand them. Here they are kept safe but given enough freedom to not feel controlled. It is an approach that has obvious results. By the end of a week most have formed deep friendships, spent time contemplating their lives and their faith and they’ve grown up a bit. The adults too, despite the unaccustomed feeling that they are not the most important people here, find themselves enriched by the experience. A lot of silence, some mantra like singing and getting back in touch with simple living can be a wonderful way to reconnect with our lives. Perhaps more pertinent in the current political climate is the fact that you share your time there with people from all over the world. The effect is the discovery that we have more in common than we have differences. Given that Taizé started as a reaction to the horrors of WW2 and particularly the persecution of the Jewish community it seems to me that it has special importance today.