by Kathryn Lieder
Brother Roger’s words, “God is love alone,” epitomize the nature of Taizé prayer, an ecumenical form of prayer that combines short Scripture readings, song, and silence.
On Monday April 13, Brother John, Brother Emile, and Brother Emmanuel of the Taizé Monastery in the Burgundy region of France came to BC to spend time with some of the students and faculty who visited Taizé during Spring Break and to share their wisdom with both the BC community and members of St. Ignatius parish.
Campus Ministry and St. Ignatius Parish collaboratively put on the Taizé prayer service with the brothers in St. Ignatius Church. Many candles were arranged at the front of the church
surrounding the altar, creating the peaceful, dimly lit environment that is reminiscent of the calm, warming atmosphere of the Church of Reconciliation at Taizé.
A rich, unifying chorus of voices filled the church during each of the many songs sung in several different languages throughout the service.
Brother Emile, originally from Canada, spoke of the use of repetitive prayerful song as “a non-threatening transcendence…the beauty is disarming.”
Brother John, a native of Philadelphia, expressed that the short refrains are the key to maintaining song quality, while making them easy enough to sing that they are accessible to all. Brother Emmanuel of France believes that the repetition “opens a space beyond inner freedom…[so that] you are free to let the depths of your being express themselves.”
After the prayer service, the brothers led a discussion on their discernment, as well as Taizé’s history, particularly Brother Roger’s lasting impact on the Taizé community.
Initially, Brother Roger didn’t want Taizé to be a gathering place for young people. His original vision for Taizé was simply a community where a small group of brothers would live and pray together in solidarity. He worried that young people would disturb the peace and quiet of the brother’s monastic lifestyle, so he built the first guest house two miles away.
Young people from all over the world began arriving to the community of brothers in Taizé in the 1970’s. Brother Roger, after some time, came to accept that young people were in need of what Taizé offers and could really benefit from the approachable prayer, reflection and faith sharing that makes Taizé so unique.
Brother Emmanuel spoke of Brother Roger’s desire that “young people discover a living relationship with God.”
On August 16, 2005, a young Romanian woman who suffered from mental illness took Brother Roger’s life during an evening prayer service at Taizé.
Though Brother Roger’s life ended in such an abrupt and horrifying way, the brothers choose not to focus on the misfortune of his sudden death and instead focus their energies on embracing the ways in which his spirit lives on in every aspect of the Taizé prayer services and the Taizé community.
This August, the brothers and thousands of young people will gather at Taizé to celebrate Brother Roger’s life in remembrance of the 10-year anniversary of his death. His vision of solidarity and faith in the genuine goodness of all people is at the heart of what makes Taizé the place it is today.
When asked what led him to Taizé, Brother John shares that he first heard about Taizé in his high school religion class.
After graduating high school, he spent a week in silence at Taizé. The experience touched him in a truly unique way, so he decided to return the following year during Easter week, one of the most crowded times of the year at Taizé, when thousands flock from all over the world. After Easter, he decided to stay on longer as a volunteer. Eventually he went home, but was compelled to return and realized that it must have been God speaking to him, telling him to discern. Before long, he was back to Taizé and on his way to becoming a Brother.
Brother Roger often quoted St. Augustine: “Love, and show it with your life.” These are words that each and every one of the brothers embrace and live out every day.