Year of Sundays

Sunday turned out to be a rather rough Mother’s Day for me. I hate to admit this, but lately I’ve been finding myself navel-gazing weepily about how unfair it is that some of the hardest parenting work I’ve ever done will be the very work my children never appreciate. Basically, I was at my parental best when it mattered the least – when it was all boobs and diapers and getting up at 3AM. Now that they’re older and I only see them half the time, the mommy guilt has become a cruel Sisyphean task. I’ll be honest: there were tears on Sunday. Mine, not theirs.

I only mention all this as background for just how much I was looking forward to the Taizé (pronounced Tay-Zay) service that night. We’d had an unlucky week, church-wise, with both the Mosque we were hoping to attend and the back-up Buddhist monks not panning out for us. The Taizé service was something I’d been wanting to do for a while and a last minute Google revealed that it just happened to be the second Sunday of the month.

What is a Taizé service, you ask? I yanked this from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral‘s website because it’s a lovely description.

The Taizé Service for Healing and Wholeness is a candle-lit ecumenical worship service with scripture, meditative silence, healing prayer, and song led by the Caritas Community at Trinity Cathedral and singer and composer Barbara Bridge. Through singing simple chants, the mind is quieted and the heart is opened as the song becomes prayer.We believe that healing is a grace that connects us to life in God.

The contemplative prayer form that has become known as “Taizé Prayer”, takes its name from the Taizé Community of France, founded in the early 1940’s by Brother Roger. Brother Roger arrived in the village of Taizé, France in 1940. In the midst of World War II, he dreamed of creating a community where reconciliation was a daily reality. He began by giving shelter to refugees of the war, especially Jews. Brother Roger recognized that the search for reconciliation was within each individual as well as within the community. Initially, the Taizé founder lived alone, until brothers from various Protestant and Catholic backgrounds followed. Today, as an ecumenical monastic community, Taizé is a sign of reconciliation.

Reconciliation? I thought that would just about hit the spot after the day I’d had. But then again, this was the last kind of service I ever would have thought to bring my children to. I mean, meditative SILENCE? Healing prayer? And sadly, no childcare.

But it was Sunday and mommy has a blog to write. If worst came to worse, I’d break down and pray for them to behave.

Overkill much? This church was FANCY.

The Deacon had me with her opening lines,

“Tonight we are a small, but very chosen group.”

She went on to emphasize that this was a contemplative service during which she encouraged attendees to “pray in silence – the first language of God,” the very language I’ve so desperately been trying to understand myself. That’s the whole point of this spiritual journey for me: not the God part so much as the silence.

It got even better when the music started – an upright string base, a lone coronet, a grand piano and a choir of four men and six women, the leader of which had a soprano voice so pure and unpretentious that I swear I could hear her in my bones. She wasn’t anything close to the hot choir director at St. Mary’s who gave me girly wood, but the fact that the chorus was made up of frumpy church ladies only warmed my cockles. It also made me realize we were definitely the youngest people in the pews that night.

The bible reading could have left much to be desired. I mean, we all know how I feel about that lovely road to Emmaus, but the delivery was spectacular in its unself-consciousness. The reader was humble and soft-spoken in a way that reminded me of the Christian Scientists and how they ooze kindness and generosity from their pores. When my children started to squirm beside me during the reading, I dug deep and tried to locate that Christian Science gene that would allow me to be grateful for it. It was a challenge, but at least it kept me from fully embracing the silence, which would have been my own road to perdition. Their squirminess was the only thing keeping me from bursting into tears.

The meditative silence began and ended with sound of the gong, which immediately caused my son to turn to me and begin rattling off questions in that whistle-like whisper all first graders get when they lose their front teeth. “What are they doing? Why iss it sso quiet? What wassat noise? Where’d the musssic go? How much longer?” The only answer I could come up with was that he should try to listen to his heartbeat. I certainly couldn’t find my own. Genoa sat on my other side picking her nose (literally) and asking for food, drink, or exile, none of which I could offer. I could barely even suck in a full breath and I wondered how many children sit in the pews every Sunday sending out the same prayer: “Dear Jesus: Let this service end as soon as possible.”

Between each of the prayers, which were so quiet as to be almost inaudible, the choir would sing the following chorus and the sound of the coronet echoing off the walls of the chapel was so heart-rending I almost lost it.

“Let my prayer rise before you like incense. Let my prayer come to you my God.”

Then it was time for the laying on of hands.

Which is where I actually did lose it.

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Four groups of two parishioners took to the rail in front of the church and faced the congregation, who had been invited up to kneel on the cushions, request a prayer and then have one of the couplets lay hands on them. The first brave volunteer approached, a gray-haired woman from the pew in front of us. She was anointed with oils and then knelt while her fellow church members (not only preachers or pastors, but volunteers too) put their hands on her shoulders and behind her neck and literally held her as they all prayed together.

It was one of the most poignant things I’ve ever seen.

I might not believe in God, but I steadfastly believe in the power of skin and the human touch. I hate to admit this, but my own mental health relies greatly on a certain patch of furry chest beneath Joel’s right clavicle that belongs to my left cheek. Silence may be the first language of God, but touch is the first language of humanity. I’m convinced we all need it to survive and never have I seen it expressed more beautifully than during this Taizé service. Watching that level of human intimacy in a religious setting was overwhelming enough to make me cry.

In a million years, I wouldn’t want those Pentecostals to come near me with a ten foot pole, but this? I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to partaking of a religious ritual. In fact, I absolutely regret not getting up and experiencing it first hand. But I was scared I would bawl like a baby and lose that final thread of my journalistic integrity.

We did, however, get up and take part in admiring the icons. All four of us climbed the front steps of the pulpit and sat on the embroidered cushions in front of a canvas painting of Jesus. Genoa snuggled into my lap and Alex whistle-whispered next to Joel. We all… looked at him. Which was the point, I guess. The kids were mostly just happy to get up and move around because this was the first and only standing portion of the service. I love that the Taizé is not a stand-up/sit-down ceremony. It’s always hard to think about God when I’m busy adjusting my Spanx after standing up for the fourteenth time.

Genoa dancing for Jesus

We were barely back to our pew when Genoa begged, “I wanna go back up there and look at Jesus’ picture again!” which I found endearing. In fact, in spite of the requisite squirming, my children were remarkably well-behaved and by the end of the service, I found that at least a little bit of my mommy guilt had lifted. I felt oddly… reconciled. I might not be there as much I used to be, but I’m doing my best and taking on the bigger issues: God and silence, love and respect, kindness and a really big scoop of Ben & Jerry’s for being extra quiet during church.

Alex, age 7 and Genoa, age reallyreallyreallyalmost 5

I could do worse.

Unfortunately, Taizé isn’t a church I can actually join. It’s just a monthly one-off, or, if you’re up for a religious adventure, an annual expedition to France. Is there a Taizé service at your church? If so, I’d really love to hear what you talk about in those prayer huddles. Do share.

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