Upon arriving in France last August, I discovered on the front page of the newspaper that Brother Roger, founder of the ecumenical Taizé community, had been murdered during evening prayer by Luminita Solcan, a deranged Romanian woman. In addition to my shock over his death, I was, somewhat selfishly, concerned about my own plans to bring a group of 19 Calvin College students to Taizé. Would the community's spirit be broken? And practically, would Taizé restrict access to the Brothers?
"Nothing at Taizé has changed. There is no security," said Brother Jean-Marie, when my group finally arrived in lower Burgundy for a very chilly November weekend retreat at Taizé.
A native Long Islander, Brother Jean-Marie joined the community in 1981, straight out of college. And while the community continues to grieve Brother Roger's death, he stressed that "the community is very, very united." Since August, four new brothers, from France, Senegal, Argentina, and Indonesia, have joined, illustrating the Taizé's vitality and international diversity.
According to Brother Jean-Marie, "prayer is the glue" uniting Taizé. The community offers visitors a set program: eat, discuss, participate in chores, and praythree times a day.
When we came to Taizé late on a Friday night, we ate a simple dinner and rushed off to evening prayer in the community's largest building, the Church of Reconciliation. As the Taizé songbook indicates, "meditative chant" would be the best way to describe the prayer service. Simple songs, in French, English, Latin, and a host of other languages, are sung repeatedly, broken by a Scripture reading and also a five-minute time of silence.
"When the singing started," said Ryan Poling, ...1