Sunday 20 April 2014

Easter in taizé

Well it’s that time of year again when Taizé fills up to over capacity. For the 9,000 young people who will officially be staying in Taizé over the two weeks of Easter, there have been some interesting things going on. The Holy week started with an unusual Palm Sunday service down at Saint Stephen’s spring. With the congregation holding their sprigs of green surrounding the brothers, it had an air of the druids’ spring solstice even though the message was clearly Christian.

Holy week culminated this morning with the Easter Eucharist. The size of the crowd for this service frightens me, the church is packed to over capacity and the brothers tip-toe through the crowds parading the huge lit Paschal candle, so I stayed at home and imagined the scene from the safety of my garden.

This year the crowds were so large I could hear the singing while I was outside hanging up the washing and then the bells rang out and I could hear, in my mind, the shouts and cheers as “Christ is risen” would have been spoken in too many languages to count. A joyous day on this beautifully sunny Easter morning.

Happy Easter to everyone!

Sunday 30 March 2014

The secrets of taizé pottery

Taizé pottery
I love Taizé pottery, the simplicity of the designs and the beautiful colours of their glazes. I have one of their oil lamps and I drink my wine out of a pottery beaker I was given, which is in my favourite of their glazes “Bleu”. Last weekend, Taizé held an open weekend to show their workshops to the public. We were there straight after the Sunday morning service, champing at the bit to see all the inner workings of the brothers’ studios.
How to make a bowl, Taizé style
So how do you make pottery? Well you get hold of some clay and you model it, you dry it to make “biscuit”, then you glaze it, then you fire it and you have a plate a bowl or a cup depending what you wanted to make in the first place. Simple right? Well I was really surprised at the lengths they go to, to make their pottery. They don’t start with a lump of clay at all, they start with earth, they mix it with various other types of earth and water to make the clay.
Dip the bowl in a glaze
Depending on what they are making, they then chomp it up into bits and using various machines (the one in the photo is one of the more manual ones, they did have slightly more automated ones) they turn out plates, bowls saucers, cups, beakers, depending on the day’s production order. These are dried then dipped in the day’s glaze and the fired in one of the two kilns. The glazes are mixed by hand in small quantities made from various ashes, iron oxide, cobalt oxide but one of the prettiest is Omnia, which is made up of leftovers!
Half a jug - cut open so we could see how it worked
The real surprise for me was the jugs and other small delicate items. How do you make a jug? I assumed it would be thrown on a wheel and made that way, but no, the jugs are moulded. Very running clay (ie liquid) is poured into a mould until it is full, left to stand for 20 minutes and the runny stuff is poured back into the liquid clay vat. The mould is made of plaster and so absorbs water fast, so there is a layer of clay that is “stuck” to the mould. Once that dries, a perfect jug emerges. Now isn’t that clever! Next time I’m in the shops, I will certainly look at their offerings with different eyes.

Sunday 6 October 2013

We just popped into the Taizé shop and what did we find?

Vases in Taizé
I love the shop in Taizé, full of their beautiful pottery. Having said that, now is not actually a very good time to go, the stocks are low and the queues can be long, but I can’t resist a look every now and then. I saw this stand of lovely vases, such beautiful glazes and designs. A lovely addition to any living room I would have thought. But it was the pictures on the wall at the end of the room that caught my eye. At the moment there is an exhibition of Brother Stephen’s work which is entitled quite simply “Circle Colours”. Brother Stephen trained as an artist before he joined the community back in the early ‘80s and since joining the brothers, he has concentrated on enamelwork and decorations for the church and external Taizé events. His work on display in this special exhibition, is inspired by a passage from the bible - Ecclesiastes (3:11):
“God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” 
Much like a circle, which is “a figure of unity, wholeness, infinity. Without beginning or end, without any side or angle.” I find it an interesting and original interpretation of a piece of scripture, but even if you don’t go along with that, it is certainly a fascinating set of pictures.
Some of Brother Stephen's circles
For accommodation near Taizé click here.

Monday 29 April 2013

A fews "firsts" to start the week.

2009 organ
The Taizé organ
The alarm woke me at 06.30 - yes I know, very uncivilised, but it was a big day for me – and I was out of the door before 07.30 waiting for my lift. A detour via the boulangerie to get croissants which we ate in the car, then on to Taizé for my first ever early morning service. I have always said I should go, just to see what it was like, but well mornings and me don’t really go together. During the service came my second first of the day. I actually heard someone play the organ ! I have wondered what it sounded like since it was installed 4 years ago – it has never been played on a Sunday when I have been there for some reason. To be honest, it was not really worth waiting for, but then again, I have at least heard it being played.

The morning service starts between 08.20 and 08.30 and is simple and relatively short, similar to the lunchtime service but with communion laid on. The bread and wine are actually blessed in a separate service which takes place at about 07.45 in the crypt. Those who want to, can join in this service, but we were just a tad too late for that. Just an aside, I have heard that this service is held in the main church in the summer months, as the crypt is not very big. After the main service, no one hangs around as you have to queue for breakfast and eat it, in time to get to the Bible instructions which start at 10.00.

Breakfast - Taizé style
So my third first of the day was my first ever Taizé meal and yes, as everyone says, it was “simple”. A choice between tea (which my companions strongly advised against) or hot chocolate which was made without milk. We had a small bread roll, a pat of butter (real butter I might add, not margarine) and two sticks of chocolate. No cutlery - no one told me to bring my own – so I had to rip open the roll and squidge the butter on the surface, too bad it was so cold otherwise this method might have worked a bit better. I put the two sticks of chocolate between the chunks of butter and squashed it all together. Surprisingly tasty and enough for me for breakfast - maybe the croissant helped in that department as well. The “hot chocolate” was lacking in both the hot and the chocolate departments, but it was wet and I managed to drink most of it.

Companions for the morning
Then on to my fourth first of the day and to be honest, the real reason I had gone to Taizé at all this morning. I had heard stories from campers and people in the gîtes about the Bible instruction and I really wanted to see and hear for myself what it was all about and I wasn’t disappointed. We had a very small passage for the day Genesis ch12 v1 – 5 where God tell Abraham to leave and Abraham goes. On the face of it, not very scintillating stuff, but the brother in charge of the session, managed to get us (or should I say me?) to actually think about the words and the meaning behind the story. It is a very long time ago since I had any Bible instruction and my recollections of it are not all positive, but this morning, I was actually hanging on his every word, wondering where he was going with his talk. This is just the start of a week and the theme of “faith” for the week will be developed in the next five days, but I found the 40 minute or so talk very thought provoking and all other things being equal, I would have loved to join for the whole week, but on this occasion, work commitments decree otherwise.

Normally you join in with a discussion group at this point of the morning and you then spend the whole week with the same group to discuss what has been talked about in these sessions. As I was only there for one day, I left when the brother had finished his talk, leaving my companions behind. I then set off on my own and I thoroughly enjoyed my short walk home.

This morning has reminded me of Bruni who stayed in one of our gîtes back in 2010, when she told me that I should “treat myself” to a week of instruction in Taizé. I can now relate to that remark and who knows, one week when we have no one on the site, I might just do that.

For more details of the accommodation we have here at La Tuilerie click here.

Sunday 31 March 2013

Time to wash those feet again

A brother washes feet at Taizé (Journal de Saône-et-Loire)
I was reminded of last year’s visit to Taizé for the Maundy Thursday evening service and feet washing “ceremony”, when I read on the internet that Pope Francis was washing feet in Rome.

When I researched the feet washing thing, this time last year, I found instructions about how to prepare for the ceremony, but it was not the preparations the guy/gal doing the washing, but the instructions for the Washees that intrigued and somewhat irritated me. The Washees should make sure that their feet are clean before they come to the service, with the implication that the Bishop (or other Washer) should not be confronted by any form of dirt or smelliness. Was that what Jesus said at the last supper? “Make sure your feet are clean or I won’t wash them”. Err excuse me, washing is about cleaning, about showing you are no better than any one else and are not too important to do any task, no matter how unpleasant - it’s about being humble.

That aside, with the stinking cold I have had since our return from Malta, I decided not to go to the service at Taizé on Thursday evening and I now really regret that I didn’t go. The Taizé service has always been inter-brother feet washing experience, all of who would have equally clean or dirty feet, so probably not too many surprises. But I read in the paper, the next day, that the brothers washed the feet of the congregation for the first time. So this year there were no rules, no regulations, take it as you find it, not necessarily a nice job, but it is an action that reminds all of those involved, that we are none of us better than others, and we could all do well to remember that sometimes.

The Pope washes feet (Reuters via BBC website)
Now back to the pope’s feet washing. I am not sure whether it is unusual for a pope to wash feet or not, but I am sure that it would have been only be feet of the important, pious, invited few and I am doubly sure that the rules would have been very strict indeed. But this new pope set new standards this year, he went to a young offenders institution and washed and kissed the feet of twelve young criminals and not all of those feet looked particularly clean to me. What a gesture to make - that is leadership. Whether Pope Francis influenced the Taizé brothers actions this year or not, I don’t know, but it is an interesting and adventurous change all round.

I can’t help but be intrigued by this new pope, he has set in motion a refreshing wind of change which is wafting through the Vatican and I suspect he is sending some ripples of discontent amongst the diehards. He is reported to have shunned the almost palatial Pope’s residence and is staying in a two room suite in the building next door. I quote the BBC’s reporting directly on this one:

His spokesman said he was "trying out this type of simple living" in a communal building with other priests…. He said he could not say whether the Pope would remain in these quarters in the long term.

The new pope and  popemobile (NRC)
Maybe they are hoping he will come to his senses and soon start behaving like a normal pope, I personally think there are a lot of people who hope he will not. In any case I couldn’t resist posting this last photo (from the NRC) of a rather cute model of the new pope (taken in Izalco, San Salvador) in his super, non-bullet-proof popemobile.

Happy Easter to everyone, Washers and Washees alike.

La Tuilerie Website, giving details of accommodation within walking distance of Taizé.

Sunday 30 December 2012

Taizé Goes to Rome

The Pope joining the Taizé prayers (F1 TV)

As every year, the brothers of Taizé leave their community in France for a few days and go off to the European Meeting at the end of the year - this year it’s Rome. The young people arrived in Rome on Friday and they will stay until 2nd of January.

The brothers leaving the prayers in Rome (Taizé website)

The Pope joined the prayers last night in the square outside St Peter’s Basilica with the 40 thousand or so young people joining in. One of the photos was taken from the news on France 1 last night and the other is from the Taizé website. I particularly like the one showing the brothers leaving the prayers and moving towards the pilgrims in the square – from their side, it must be a very moving and uplifting experience to see so many people there just because of them.

End of Sunday's service in Taizé
But what happens here when everyone has gone? Well prayers go on as usual, there is always someone here. The old brothers who can’t travel, the sisters of St Andrews and of course, the local congregation. This morning the Sunday service was held in the small Romanesque church. It was packed with the hundred or so locals who come every Sunday, rain or shine, pilgrims and brothers or not. A very intimate and different kind of service, with the singing ringing round the Romanesque edifice, a sound not often heard within these walls, but it is what they were built for and it is good to see the church being used in this way every so often.

La Tuilerie Website for accommodation within walking distance of Taizé.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Mud Huts and Prayer Stools

Taizé nativity scene 2012
It’s that “Taizé Nativity Scene” time of year again. Rather than do a rundown week by week, here’s just two pictures in one. This year the theme is Africa, so Mary and Joseph are black Africans, as are all the rest of the cast and the stable is a mud hut. I’m not sure quite what the deeper meaning is behind it, but it is an interesting twist, particularly as when there were discussions to found a Jewish homeland in the early 1900s, one of the options was Uganda. But I don’t think that that is the link they are thinking of.

Romanesque church Taizé
In any case we were in Taizé and as Cees has been trying to photograph the old church for quite some time now, we popped into the little Romanesque church to see if it would be possible. The problem is that the church is incredibly dark inside, spookily so to be honest. Most of the potential windows have been closed off leaving just one real window in the whole church and a few very small windows in the apse. All the windows, bar one, are in traditional Taizé orange which lets very little light through - a bit like the use of red light in the old fashioned dark rooms. The church also has dark grey walls and poor Cees has nearly broken his neck on a couple of occasions, when we have gone in there, tripping over a payer stool left in the middle of the walkway. The church is normally full of young people praying, which means you can’t leave the doors open to let enough light in to walk around without disturbing them. But now that there are only a few brothers and a handful of permanents in Taizé, the church can be found completely empty on some occasions, as was the case the other day.

My first attempt at a Taizé prayer stool
While Cees was photographing the architectural features that the church has to offer, I spotted a lonely prayer stool at the front and decided it was about time I tried one out. I always sit on the floor during services, but I have closely watched stool users, so I know how, in theory, to use one. Having watched far too many novices end up with their legs flailing in the air after misplacing their bottom or having the stool angle the wrong direction, I have never dared to try in public. So now was my chance.

Here is photographic proof of my attempt - not a very good photo I’ll grant you. I must say I was surprised. It was in fact very comfortable. Having said that, I am not sure I would be confident enough to try during a service, it’s that bit where you have to turn around through 180 degrees, that tends to be the death knell for many a middle aged beginner.

Next time I am at a service I will watch how the experts do the turn, then I may move on to practicing at home and then who knows, I could progress to being a fully qualified Taizé prayer stool user.

La Tuilerie Website showing accommodation with plenty of prayer stool practice space and within walking distance of Taizé itself.