I woke up just as the bus arrived at Chalon-sur-Saône. At 5am, it was still dark and very cold outside, but thankfully this stop had a large station that was open at the dreadful hour. A little over an hour later, I got on Buscephale bus Line 7 with a cup of coffee in hand. The route traversed large and lonely roads cozied by thick fog and made stops alongside old indiscernible stone houses where teenagers climbed on with large backpacks. School bus I suppose. I’m beginning to take a step back from time to time and let myself be amused with the situations I find myself in, and being in a bus with thirteen year-olds as I make my way through Eastern France at the crack of dawn was deserving of a little amusement.
I arrived at Taizé Community at 7:30am. Everything was closed and there was no one in sight. I was inappropriately dressed for the chilly morning weather, wearing only the 10 euro black sweater I had bought at Madrid. I found someone wearing an apron who confirmed, that check-in was closed until 9:45am, so he suggested I wait inside the church. I walked into a spacious dark room, that was visibly connected to other dark spacious dark rooms, all with no seating except for a few lonely benches on the side of the room. I sat there for a while thinking about the cold, until I decided that the guy had to be wrong about the check-in time because I couldn’t possibly sit inside the dark freezer box for two hours. I walked outside back towards the office where I was met with a sign that told me opening time would be at 9:30am but that I should go to morning prayer at 8:15am and then follow the crowd out to breakfast. Suddenly, bells began ringing and people emerged from somewhere and entered the church I had left less than five minutes before.
As I entered the church, I saw people going down a small hallway, that led to another empty room and eventually, into the longest room I had seen so far. This room was warmer and lit in a way that colored the room in a warm orange hue. The room was divided in three, with men in white tunics (the brothers) sparsely sitting in the middle section in two long rows. In the sections to their left and right, a few people were already sitting on the floor or on tiny wooden stools. All three sections were joined together at the front by a beautiful alter that was layered in red and orange fabric. Towards the front, there were around fifty flickering candles placed inside square ceramic containers placed on top of each other in what seemed dangerous ways, creating as a result, a magical arrangement.
The room filled up more, the bells stopped ringing and a beautiful song filled the room. Then I knew what to do and didn’t feel lost for the first time in days.
I used to attend Taizé prayer services when I was in high school. Once a month, on Wednesday evenings, I would get on a comical, tiny white school bus with other students and travel a couple of cities over to the parish of St. Viator, where for an hour, I would sit inside a beautiful chapel with bright blue stained glass and sing four songs in French or Latin, repeating the single verse of each over and over again, until I forgot that any other sounds existed.
I sat down and experienced this again. I heard mostly new songs in various languages and other oldies I knew by heart. Then, as instructed, I followed the crowd outside and got in line for breakfast. I was very hungry at this point and hoped for some eggs, maybe even bacon. Instead, I got a small piece of hard bread, a small packet of butter, and two pieces of chocolate. Things got worse when I saw everyone sitting outside in circular wooden benches (it was still cold!). I sat down and just stared at my food for a while, not sure how to proceed. I was joined by others and we talk about the different techniques we could employ to eat our breakfast. I opened up my bread, tried as best as I could to coat the bread with the butter, and shoved the pieces of chocolate inside. I dipped it all into my cup of hot chocolate and it was surprisingly very delicious. As the week went on, I craved this very unhealthy breakfast throughout the day.
I finally checked in, got a map of the camp and a rundown of the schedule.
- 8:15am Morning Prayer
- 10am Bible Group
- 12:20 Midday Prayer
- 1:45 Work
- 5pm Tea Time
- 7pm Dinner
- 8:30 Evening Prayer
The Taizé Community is considered a large pilgrimage site for Christian youth, who usually stay at the camp for one week and enjoy a differently paced life among other young people. Although I met a few eighteen year-olds who were “permanents” and planned to stay at Taizé from a couple months up to a year. During my stay there were around ~200 people, which I thought was a lot for a random week in September, but apparently the camp has up to 4000 people visit during the summer weeks and in Easter!
Towards the end of the week, I joined a couple of people for a walk to a farm “nearby” (40min). The sights were beautiful though. Cows lounging everywhere, wide bright green areas covered in tiny yellow flowers, a clear blue sky. At the farm, I bought fresh goat milk that later stunk up my bag with an unfriendly odor, but oh well.
I’m really glad I decided to reserve a week of my travels to visit the Taizé Community. Mostly, because it allowed me to revisit something that had been very special to me in my teenage years. Taizé always centered me.
As my European travels came to a close, spending a week Taizé allowed me to slow down and reflect on my journey before I moved on to the next project country. It also ended up being surprisingly enriching in terms of my project since I had very interesting conversations with people about immigration and the refugee crisis in their perspective countries, and even met various people heavily involved in providing aid for refugees in Germany.