Magazine article The Christian Century

Prayer at Taize

Magazine article The Christian Century

Prayer at Taize

Article excerpt

WE CALL PRAYER at Taize "common prayer," not the "office," which suggests a work obligation: "We do our office," "We do what we ought to do." That doesn't correspond to the way we experience prayer in our lives. To say prayer is "common" is to say that it brings us together. Of course, each member of the community tries to find time for personal prayer. But prayer in the church brings us all together.

A lot of people say, "Well, God is close to you anywhere." Of course, a Christian prays on his own, But prayer brings us together. And a certain attention given to God will have an effect on the way we are with others. If God really is communion--Father, Son, Holy Spirit--then that same communion will have some bearing on the life, we live with others.

Prayer in a Christian sense is an attentiveness to God that also makes us attentive to others. It's not just a question of a personal discipline. Sometimes you hear people say, "I've got to find more quiet time in my life. Every morning I'm going to take half an hour for silence." I'm not against that and would not discourage it. But it's important to come together to pray and for prayer to have an effect on our lives.

We can't help lint try to look at prayer from the perspective of our visitors. It's a bit of a plunge for most people to come here and spend seven days praying three times a day. it might seem pretentious to say we live plunged in prayer. But after a while, praying three times a day becomes something natural.

Not that it's always so incredibly meaningful. As with anything you do every day, you have your own high or low moments. But we would like to help people find that there's something natural in prayer, something a little bit like breathing, like eating. Not that prayer is a need the way eating is a need. But we all need to find some way that God becomes--and faith becomes--a natural element of life.

People come to Taize from different backgrounds and speak different languages. With all that diversity, prayer has to be simple in the sense of being whole, not made up of lots of details. But also simple in the sense that everybody finds something to take away and chew on. We talk about that a lot. There's a constant quest for prayer, a constant need to ask ourselves, "What really helps us?" whether in the choice of music or in the choice of readings.

For example, on Saturdays for a while we were using candles to celebrate the resurrection. Then one Saturday things got a little bit out of control. There was a group that started waving the candles--the music we were singing was very joyous--and then the whole church started moving the candles around. It was very emotional, but it was also dangerous. We took this into account on the next Saturday. When it was time to light the candles. we used music that was a little bit calmer and saved the songs that were more openly joyful for later, once people got used to the candles.

Besides needing to address the issue of safety, we didn't want to push the service to a religious high. That's one of the things we want to avoid, given that there are four or five thousand young people here for an intense week. We want to be sure that their experience is close to the ground and is something that will not just be put in the category of an unrealistic dream, We don't want them to say, "At Taize we could pray, but when we go back home we can't."

So we constantly need to be thinking about what can be changed and what little details have to be taken into account. These are questions for us in the community too. …

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