Kébé, in July I went to the Taizé Community in France to spend a week praying in silence. A retreat, in other words. Silent, that is, apart from singing…
There is a coach which goes from Birmingham and London to Taizé once a week in the summer months. Here it is, below the white cliffs of Dover, as we waited to embark on the ferry to France. We left Birmingham at about two in the afternoon and arrived in Dover a little before sunset. It was a beautiful sunny day. I thought of my last trip to Taizé (I have only been twice), which took place seventeen years ago, in the spring of 1997. I caught the train that time, from Coventry to London Euston, then from London Victoria to Paris Gare du Nord, via the Channel Tunnel, which had opened maybe three years before. Then from Paris I went be train and bus to Taizé. On the way back I spent a few hours sightseeing and shopping in Paris. No such distraction this time. Straight to Taizé and straight back home again a week later.
Au revoir, Blighty. I took this picture from the open passenger deck high up on the ferry where people go to smoke. By the time the boat reached Calais it was nearly dark. The coach drove on through eastern France throughout the night and arrived at Taizé just after 8 o’clock. I tried to sleep on the coach, but it’s not easy. I thought of the overnight coach journeys I made when I was in Canada, from the little town in northern Quebec where I lived to the big city, Ottawa or Montreal.
At Taizé we were greeted by some of the pérmanents, the young people who live and work there for a while (but not permanently; the name is confusing to us English-speakers). Among them were my friends Matt and Steph from Birmingham, who were at Taizé for a few weeks over the summer. The pérmanents are volunteers who work for the brothers who make up the Taizé Community.
Life at Taizé is simple. Most visitors stay for a week. Some sleep in dormitories, others in tents. I brought my own tent and was shown the way to the field for the adults who had chosen to spend the week in silence. At Taizé you are an ‘adult’ if you are over 30 or so. The brothers welcome young people – aged 16-30 – mostly, but older adults are welcome, too.
In the main square of the community I queued up for breakfast: crusty baguette – the French stick loaf – with butter, jam and a bowl of hot chocolate. Then I walked to the silent field at the far end of the site, put my tent up, unpacked and went to sleep for a few hours.