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Sep. 23rd, 2007 | 02:33 am
location: Taize, France
mood: lovedloved

Okay, now that I'm not crouched up against a wall illegally using someone else's WiFi, I'll try to write a longer post! Its Sunday and Gulliver and I have found a quiet corner in the church together (Gulliver is my laptop). All the Brothers and Permanents (young people who are here for more than a month) are running around furiously cleaning and preparing for a new week. The shifts here at Taize run from Sunday to Sunday, and only people under 30 are allowed to stay for longer than a week (under 30s can stay for up to a year, free of charge!) This past week there were about 400 guests; next week, since Germany will be on vacation, there will be about 1000.

L'Abri was a great experience, and I will always remember it fondly. Huemoz was unbelievably beautiful. But it was a sort of beauty that I couldn't really be a part of for very long. There were soaring mountains and glacier caps and cliffs. But I couldn't run; I couldn't chase through meadows or take long walks through rambling fields.

It felt a bit like living in a two-dimensional postcard. My options for enjoying nature were two: I could either take grueling hikes up Death Hill after Death Hill, or else I could sit on the balcony and enjoy the beauty passively. Neither route was much fun. From the time I was a tiny kid, my imagination fixed on endless wheat fields, wild flowers, and sky. Its kind of odd to reflect on-- I never actually saw wheat fields in real life until I came to Walla Walla. I lived in western Washington, and had never been east of the Rockies. But the golden wheat color from magazine cutouts, the sun, the space-- they drew me. I never liked feeling closed in.

Here in Burgundy the scenery is like my Walla Walla home. There is plenty of room to run around in the French countryside. And the sunrise fills the whole earth (or so it seems). I like it here.

I also like the community. I heard about Taize from French volunteers in Kolkata. Once some Brothers came and held a prayer service at the Mother House, and all my European Catholic friends were very excited. My understanding was that Taize was some kind of Catholic community in France where monks dedicated their lives to the making of beautiful, singable, music .

But I was quite wrong.

Taize was started by a young Protestant called Brother Roger who welcomed and sheltered all sorts of people in the 1940s (including Jews). It has grown into an ecumenical community where today Catholics and Protestants from various traditions come together, take common monastic vows, and offer hospitality to thousands of young people each year. Brother Roger wanted Taize to be a parable of Christian unity in Europe.

When I heard this, it blew my mind. After living with the Sisters in Kolkata I was sure such a thing was impossible. Even if Protestants were open to reconciliation, I thought, Catholics would never bend. They believe they are the true apostolic church, and that we Protestants are just offshoots or breakaways. They might pray for and speak of unity, but what they really mean is that “we” should join “them” again: The Mother Church. Protestantism should just blend back into Catholicism and disappear.

Well, I think that is just so arrogant. In broad principle, I don't believe in leaving churches. I think we should bring reformation from within our institutions (I know, that's very idealistic). But Luther tried that and got kicked out. What do you do then? Wait around without a church home for 400 years till Vatican II catches on, makes changes, and welcomes you back? That's just unreasonable.

So our Catholic friends in 2007 say, “Yeah we kicked you out. But come home to us now, we've had our reformation.” (I've heard Catholics call the 16th century movement the “Deformation” and Vatican II the true “Reformation.”) Well, what are we supposed to do with our 500 years of rich Protestant history now? Just throw it away? It's been too long and the wounds are too deep. If we ever are going to come together, I think it will have to be under a new paradigm. And we will have to have a new understanding of what it means to be unified. Traditions will have to learn to live side by side under the lordship of Christ. Plurality of ideas will have to be accepted: plurality rooted in and covered by love. And grace. Lots of grace.

How could such a thing happen? Protestants are too stubborn. Catholics are too arrogant.

But here in Taize something very much like that is happening, and its beautiful. This order does not function under the auspices of the Vatican (like other Catholic monastic orders). But Catholics who join are still respected and thought of as genuine monks by priests and by the Catholic Church. I'm still trying to figure out exactly how this place runs-- I know its also not connected to any Protestant institution. Its more like its own freestanding congregation. The brothers make decisions as a community and take their vows before God alone(or so explained one of the Catholic brothers).

I've been most astonished at how this community celebrates the Lord's Supper. Communion is, in my mind, the great symbol of Christian unity. But one must be a baptized Catholic to partake of the Eucharist, so Protestants will never be eligible to take the Supper with Catholics. Likewise, most Catholics won't celebrate communion with Protestants because they think we don't have the “real thing.” So these emblems that were meant to unify the Body of Christ have become the great source of division between Catholics and Protestants. I sat for eight months in Kolkata, excluded, while all the “true” Christians went forward for the bread. If conservative Catholics think its blasphemous for Protestants to take part in the Eucharist, I think its blasphemous for Catholics to exclude Protestants from the Eucharist.

Taize's solution to this problem is a very sneaky one. Catholic Mass is celebrated here every morning at 7:30, but its not “pushed” the same way the three daily prayer meetings are. At the first 8:20am prayer meeting, the consecrated bread and wine are distributed again by the Brothers. There are a few inconspicuous signs up that those belonging to “Reformation Churches” can take communion by the “icon of the cross,” but these directions are very vague. I made my way to the Brother at the most likely spot described for my “Protestant Communion,” but found out later that I had actually received the Catholic Eucharist. (I was quizzing one of the Brothers-- a Catholic-- and he said, “Yeah, you probably had the Eucharist.” He didn't seem that surprised or disturbed.)

I felt very evil and irreverent when I found out what I had done, and the next morning I just sat there and stared ahead throughout the service. There was blessed bread available in baskets for people who didn't feel ready to take communion, but I DID feel ready for it. I didn't want second-class stuff. I wanted the real thing.

I thought and prayed about it that afternoon and decided I would continue taking the Eucharist the next day. Some Catholics would damn me to hell. I certainly know some Sisters who would. But if the hand of fellowship has been extended, however covertly (to appease conservative Catholics), should I refuse it? These Brothers have shown respect for my distinctive beliefs and for my tradition. They haven't asked me to become Catholic or to love my Adventist spiritual home any less. But they want to acknowledge with me a common Master. They have “invited me for supper” :) Its blatantly against Catholic doctrine, I know. And so I still hesitate. Perhaps I'm doing the wrong thing and will change my mind later. Or perhaps I've misunderstood the invitation. But for now I think this is the right thing to do.

Brother Roger himself never became a Catholic. He went for communion in Rome at the funeral of Pope John Paul II and was criticized for it, but still he went. Very interesting. I can't believe Catholics like this place so much when they know very well that Protestants are taking the Eucharist here every single day. Sister K would be horrified! It is possible that I only saw one side of Catholicism while I was in Kolkata. Probably many European and North American Catholics couldn't care less whether I took the Eucharist.

I should add a few more brief notes on the blending of Catholic and Protestant traditions at Taize:

There are no “graven images” in the church. Protestants wouldn't like that. But Catholics wouldn't feel at home in a place without any images at all, so the compromise has come with icons. There are lots of icons (which, of course, makes the Orthodox guests especially happy!)

The alter is a mass candelabra, alive with fire. Its beautiful-- mystical looking enough for Catholics, while being completely inoffensive to Protestants. There is a small cross at the front, but not a crucifix. On one side of the church there is a Catholic-looking crucifix icon, but you can just sit on the other side if you find it distracting.

The brothers dress in plain clothes except during the prayer services. They wear wedding rings, but that's it-- very unpretentious. There are sisters here too, but they come from different Catholic orders to assist the Taize brothers with silent retreats and the spiritual guidance of female Permanents. They also dress in plain clothes and look like normal people.

If a young person comes here for at least three weeks they are assigned a contact sister or brother who they meet with regularly. A German nun who reminded me of Bev Beem explained to me that the English term “spiritual direction” is not a good one. In German, French, and many other languages the equivalent for “spiritual director” is something like “mutual spiritual pilgrim.” It is someone who walks alongside another on the journey of faith. I like that.

I like the honesty of the religious here, too. (“Religious” refers to monks, nuns, priests, and all other non-layfolks). Yesterday I ran into Sister Anne again at the shop and when I asked her how she was doing she told me she was feeling cranky. Ha! That made my day. Very few of the sisters in Kolkata would admit to something like that, although that might just be a cultural thing.

Its important to be real. This is a monastic order that was not founded to withdraw from the world, but to minister to it. Taize's main ministry is hospitality, not cloistered praying and music making. (But the music is still something special. I wish you could all experience an evening prayer service!) I am glad to be here. I'm getting a more balanced picture of Catholicism-- I feel like it is accessible and that I don't have to convert in order to appreciate it. That's the best, isn't it? You know you're on the right track when your love for others and your love for your own deepens from the same experience.

I've made a few nice friends here at Taize already. One is Yana Abzolun, from Estonia. She is beautiful and brilliant and has a very vibrant faith. She has had a difficult time-- has lost two brothers and her father-- but is just one of those people you know is special. We arranged to room together this week and had a nice long heart-to-heart talk this afternoon over hot chocolate. You can imagine my delight when she pulled from her bag three of C.S. Lewis' books in Estonian! I tried reading a paragraph and she was very patient while I butchered her language with my miserable pronunciation. We had a good laugh! :)

I've also made friends with a Japanese girl named Madoka, and an American Muslim called Omar. There are so many interesting people at this place!

On Friday I saw my friend Pia from Germany and we almost knocked each other over with delight when we ran and embraced. We talked talked talked for two hours straight till she had to go (she's doing a week long retreat with the Carmelites nearby). Pia has decided not to join the Missionaries of Charity. She is now dating someone-- a guy who almost became a Benedictine monk! If they ever get married, this will be a fun story to tell their kids and grandkids. I'm selfishly glad she's not joining. I thought I'd have no more friends left from Kolkata after the religious got through with them (two of my closest friends from Kolkata are now nuns, and one more is studying to become a priest).

Well, I had better sign off. I have tons to say. Tonight I will find out who my contact sister is and I hope it is Sister Anne. I love being here; I love the thought of going home. I feel content and happy to be exactly who I am and where I am. I love believing.

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Comments {5}

(no subject)

from: anonymous
date: Sep. 29th, 2007 02:14 pm (UTC)

>" I would continue taking the Eucharist the next day. Some Catholics would damn me to hell. I certainly know some Sisters who would. But if the hand of fellowship has been extended, however covertly (to appease conservative Catholics), should I refuse it?"

Yes, you should refuse it. To know or feel that something is wrong and then to do it anyway, is a sin. You stated earlier that after receiving the Eucharist illicitly that you felt you had done something wrong. You had that feeling because of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly, you now feel a burning desire for the real Eucharist and are no longer content to receive mere symbols. You want Lamb and not a picture of the Lamb. While you may not be there intellectually, you understand that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ, just as the Bible states in John 6.

The penalty that God usually imposes on folks like yourself for receiving the Eucharist illicitly is to become Catholic. The more times you receive the Eucharist, the more grace you will receive. The build up of grace will cause you to reject more and more of your Protestant past until, one day, you will realize that you are Catholic. You've already changed how you view the elements of the Lord's Supper.

You're use of words like arrogance indicate a lack of charity, but that too will change. One can't take Christ physically within themselves and not be affected.

God bless you on your journey into the Catholic Church...

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from: anonymous
date: Oct. 1st, 2007 07:49 pm (UTC)

Thanks Rachel for this wonderful journal. I was blessed. You are missed. Come home quickly.

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Christian Disunity

from: anonymous
date: Feb. 2nd, 2008 05:26 am (UTC)

Dear Yahoo, I don't know who you are or whether you will ever read this. I got your site when I googled "Christian Unity" + parable. But I loved your comments. They are spot-on. An honest summary of the situation. I am a devout Catholic and I have recently come to reallise more or less exactly what you say. The Catholic attitude IS arrogant. It has taken me 40 years to admit that. And when you say a new paradigm is needed, those were the very words I used to a Catholic theological student who was trying to work his way around official Catholic teachings on "the seperated brethren". The trouble is the hierarchy is stuck on this idea that documented (Catholic) Church teaching cannot be altered. If something sounds no longer applicable, arrogant or just plain wrong, there seems to be a total inabilty to challenge it, change it or drop it. As for the Eucharist, you should not feel guilty about receiving Catholic Communion. Most priests will never refuse anyone who approaches - they might approach you afterwards if you become a regular. As far as I am concerned you are welcome to receive Catholic Communion whilst remaining in your Christian tradition. I not only respect your tradition - I rejoice that God blesses your community in the way that He does. Your church is as authentic and as important as the Catholic church. Brother Roger wrote once that the KEY to reconcilliation and unity between Christian churches is child-like HUMILITY.
Please let me know if you read this.
Best wishes,
Charles (fivaz@mail.com)

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(no subject)

from: anonymous
date: Aug. 3rd, 2009 06:26 pm (UTC)

While there may be lots of cross-denominational symbols used, the foundation of Taize was NOT Catholic, but Protestant.

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