May 7, 2001
Taizé ceremony offers new worship option
By Stephanie Sonnenfeld firstname.lastname@example.org
At 5 p.m. on Monday afternoons, the Emory campus is anything but calm,
meditative or quiet.
Clifton, Briarcliff and North Decatur Roads are chock-full of cars, bikers
and buses, pausing only because the lights say so. Students walk/run across
the Quad, and assorted faculty and staff rush to meetings or their cars,
ready to head off to the next stop in their daily lives.
This frantic pace stops at Cannon Chapel.
Inside, the chapel is silent, except for the shuffle of footsteps across
the floor. Chairs are set up in a right-angled, U-shaped pattern in the
middle of the room.
Late afternoon light drips through skylights, highlighting a rough wooden
cross that lies in the middle of the chairs, surrounded by a dim cluster
Twig-thin candles stand in a bowl of sand on a console table that is
decorated with icons of Martin Luther King Jr. and Julian of Norwich.
The last of a group of 16 or so take their seats and notes from a grand
piano ring out. A deep baritone begins singing a Latin chant. Within two
notes, the rest of the room begins to sing.
Emorys weekly Taizé ceremony has begun.
God and silent reflection
While most of Emorys Christian services remain faithful to their
traditional ceremonial roots, with a clergyperson leading the ceremonies,
the Taizé ceremony strays a bitit is entirely self-guided.
The service has no sermon or homily, communion or formal choir. It focuses
entirely on prayer, specifically meditative prayer.
Taizés roots come from the town of the same name in the
Burgundy region of France. In the 1940s, Swiss-born Roger Schutz founded
a monastery at Taizé dedicated to a life of worship, God, the community
of goods and celibacy. Its first members were French and Swiss Reformed
Christians churches and were later joined by Lutherans. Some of the brothers
were ordained, while others were laymen who had adopted the Taizé
philosophy of life.
As the community grew, it became largely known for its style of worship,
which concentrates on praying in a manner that has neither a beginning
nor an end. At first glance, its a vague concept and one that is
hard to conceptualize, ultimately something that has to be experienced.
While the Taizé ceremony lacks formal guidance, it does follow
a recipe of sorts. For example, Emorys Taizé service begins
with a selection of gathering songs, followed by a brief welcoming
and explanation of the ceremony.
Incense is lit during another song, and a Psalm pertaining to the liturgical
Christian season is read. Another song is sung to introduce a period of
silent reflection, followed by meditation at the cross thats laid
on the floor in the middle of the chairs. At this time, participants are
invited to say the name of who they are praying for and to come forth
and light a candle for him or her.
The service ends with a series of prayers (including the traditional
Lords Prayer) and a closing song. Participants end their prayers
with hugs or handshakes as a sign of peace.
The entire service lasts for a mere half-hour at most.
of the faithful
Bringing Taizé to Emory was a joint effort by Cogswell, Matthew
Berryman, a Candler graduate student, and Dean of the Chapel and Religious
Life Susan Henry-Crowe.
We wanted to add another worship service to attract more students
and different groups in the community, Cogswell said. Having
the Taizé ceremony is a good reflection upon Emory because it shows
that Emory has a diverse communityreligious and non-religious.
Certainly Taizés brevity and its time slot make it a convenient
religious option, but its the services uniqueness that has
really made it something to look forward to, Henry-Crowe said.
I find it very comforting. Its a time that doesnt require
a lot of planning, and its very communal, she said. The
service is a kind of reflection, and there is a poetic quality to it,
both musically and lyrically.
Berryman agrees with these sentiments, strongly emphasizing the communal
role in the service. The service is not about the beauty of presentation;
its about the beauty of a shared experience of singing and prayer,
The human voice is the only necessary musical element required for the
Taizé service, but Berryman is especially proud of how many of
Emorys musicians have participated in weekly Taizé ceremonies.
Some services have a piano player for accompaniment, while others have
had mini-ensembles of guitars and various woodwinds. Musicians dont
have to attend formal Taizé practices since the music is very simple,
Musicians need only to show up Mondays at 5 p.m. Music is provided to
them and other participants at the start of the ceremony.
Its come as you are, play what you want,
Berryman said. Its almost better that way.
There is a noticeable awkwardness among first-timers at the ceremony,
which draws a crowd of 15-to-30 each Monday, Henry-Crowe said.
Part of this is due to the very different way of a service where
there arent any expectations about doing anything. Its very
hard to just come and sit and be, she said. But
if you get over that, which didnt take so long for me, the pattern
of the practice becomes very comforting.
Its perhaps Taizés pattern of practice
that has sustained its popularity in Europe, where annual conferences
draw up-wards of 100,000 and have prompted Taizé practices to be
translated into 60 languages.
Maybe its the ceremonys bonding of Old World music with modern
simplicity that has expanded its presence to a ring of metro area churches.
Or it could be the Zen-like mantras that flow through the ceremony from
start to finish that makes it an appealing break from the norm that makes
Whatever it is that makes a Taizé ceremony an attractive worship option at Emory and worldwide, it is something that should be personally experienced.
note: The Taizé ceremony will continue through
the summer, though the time may change. Call 404-727-7449 for more details.