On the blog this Lent, I’ll be sharing some different ways to pray, reflect, and meditate, through words, song, movement, and art. This week’s post explores prayer through Taizé songs.
In case you missed them, here are the previous posts in this series:
Preparing for Lent
Ways to Pray: The Book of Common Prayer
Ways to Pray: Praying Together through the Community of Hope
Taizé prayer is a form of contemporary liturgical song developed by the ecumenical Christian community at Taizé, France. The songs use repetitive structures, set to simple melodies and harmonies, that are easy to memorize and sing. They can be sung by an individual, by a choir or congregation, or with an instrumental accompaniment (Taizé Chant, The Episcopal Church). Today, Taizé songs are sung in many different languages in many different churches—including at St. Brendan’s.
Taizé worship also includes Bible readings and meditative silence, but it is most well known for these repetitive and prayerful songs. Repetitive prayers have a long history in Christian spiritual and liturgical history, but what is unique to Taizé prayers is their ability to be sung in a wide variety of circumstances—by large or small groups, by trained or casual singers, in numerous languages, and in different Christian denominations (What is Taizé Worship and How Can It Be Used, ELCA). The songs can repeat as long as they are needed, allowing the congregation to immerse itself in the prayer.
The Taizé Community shares this about Taizé songs:
Singing is one of the most essential elements of worship. Short songs, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character. Using just a few words they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind. As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being. Meditative singing thus becomes a way of listening to God. It allows everyone to take part in a time of prayer together and to remain together in attentive waiting on God, without having to fix the length of time too exactly.
The Taizé Community was founded by Brother Roger Schütz in 1940 as a respite for refugees during World War II. Later in his life, Brother Roger wrote about the community, “it would offer a possible way of assisting some of those most discouraged, those deprived of a livelihood; and it could become a place of silence and work” (A Community Called Taizé: A Story of Prayer, Worship and Reconciliation, Jason Brian Santos, 2008). Gradually other men came to join Brother Roger, and in 1949 the group of seven committed themselves to the community and to a life devoted to prayer and reconciliation.
The Church of Reconciliation, Taizé, France
Today, there are over a hundred brothers in the Taizé Community, from about 30 different countries and various Christian backgrounds. Many of these brothers live in Taizé but some live in other disadvantaged communities in Asia, Africa, and South America where they strive to be “a presence of love among the very poor, street children, prisoners, the dying, and those who are wounded by broken relationships, or who have been abandoned.” The Taizé Community itself has become a popular pilgrimage destination, especially for young adults who journey to the community to participate in prayer and worship. In an interview with Salt and Light, Brother Émile says, “What goes on in Taizé is that we try to make the sources of trust accessible to young adults today … many people today do not have the vocabulary that would enable them to approach the Christian mystery; prayer seems complicated. Brother Roger used to say: ‘Faith is a simple trust in God, so simple that all can welcome it.’ He would also say: ‘the desire for God is already the beginning of faith.’”
I asked our music director, Debbie, to share her thoughts on Taizé prayer and why we use it at St. Brendan’s. Here is what she said,
My first exposure to a Taizé service was at East Liberty Presbyterian Church. It was a Wednesday evening service, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Someone said I would like it because they sing a lot. Apprehensively, I walked into a small chapel that was filled with candles and icons. There was no choir, no priests, no traditional liturgy. It looked different, sounded different, and felt very different. I’ve always believed that music is a different level of prayer, and that night as I sat in the flickering candle light surrounded by music, I was taken to a new level. As the mantra “Oh Lord, here my prayer” resonated through me over and over again it became my only thought. I could hear and sense those around me, but we had become one voice immersed in the presence of God. It was very powerful.
I knew that this was something that I wanted to share with St. Brendan’s. Historically, we have used Taizé music in various services to create a more intimate prayer opportunity. Recently, I have intentionally chosen to incorporate Taizé in our Sunday morning Eucharist service—specifically, while the congregation is receiving communion. You don’t need to hold a book or to read any words; you can sit, you can kneel, you can walk. It is a chance to immerse yourself in prayer, to feel it, and to hear it all around you—to become truly one body as we empty our minds and open our hearts and souls and embrace the presence of Christ amongst us.
Children receiving communion at St. Brendan’s.
The best way to understand Taizé, and why this form of sung prayer speaks to so many people around the world, is, of course, to experience it yourself. This Sunday, as we sing a Taizé song during communion, I encourage you to take time to listen, to meditate, to reflect, and to join us in this prayer if you are so moved. You can also listen to several songs, sung by the Taizé Community Choir, here. If you have time, I also recommended this interesting 50-minute documentary, “Praying with the songs of Taizé,” produced in 1996 by the Taizé Community. If you don’t have time to watch the full documentary, you may want to check out this short, 2-minute, video by Rick Steves’ Europe, “Burgundy, France: The Taizé Community." If you are looking for more Taizé resources, check out the Community’s webpage, where they offer a daily prayer, podcasts, and other information about the Community.
A statement attributed (falsely) to Augustine, the fourth/fifth-century bishop of Hippo in north Africa, suggests the power of Taizé: “He who sings prays twice.” But an authentic saying of Augustine makes another point that reveals something about this form of prayer: “Singing belongs to one who loves.”
Grace and Peace,
A member of St. Brendan's since 2014, I enjoy being a part of this welcoming and giving community of faith. However, I am not a theologian, biblical scholar, or official spokesperson for The Episcopal Church. If you read anything on this blog that is inaccurate or contrary to the teachings of The Episcopal Church, please consider it my error and let me know! If you have any questions, comments, or ideas for future blog posts, please email me at email@example.com.