This is the first of our bi-weekly posts on worship. Every other Wednesday, expect to find both new and old ideas on worship practices, worship services, and philosophy and theology of worship.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Taizé community in France, an ecumenical, eponymous effort founded in 1940 in the village of Taizé, you may be in for a treat. First harboring refugees during World War II, it gradually evolved into an international monastic community that worships together, prays together, and is quite concerned about simplicity, peace and justice. Over 100,000 people make pilgrimages to Taizé each year.
I’m consistently impressed by what so many different people with so many languages have created together: this ecumenical work shows the fruits of Christian unity. I know them most for their songs, which are not only written in a unique way, but also written so that they can be sung in hundreds of languages.The songs are written by the Taizé community so that they can take part in what they call “meditative singing.”
Sidenote - Musicians: click here for a direct link to the library of songs from the Taizé website notated in four-part harmony, with MIDI files to help you learn them.
The following is an excerpt from the Taizé website on “meditative singing”:
“Singing is one of the most essential elements of worship. Short songs, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character. Using just a few words they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind. As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being. Meditative singing thus becomes a way of listening to God. It allows everyone to take part in a time of prayer together and to remain together in attentive waiting on God, without having to fix the length of time too exactly.”
For anyone who has tried to teach new songs to congregations, and has dealt with the anxiety of teaching not only an unfamiliar song but an unfamiliar style, fear not! The Taizé songs are easily explained (see the excerpt above), and even more easily learned. Because they are melodically simple in nature and lyrically only one or two phrases, for the adventurous worship leader it can be quite simple even to teach four-part harmonies of certain Taizé songs in the most contemporary of contexts. If you’re looking to bring a little more diversity into your worship services or to teach your congregations easy ways to sing in different languages, this is a great way to do it.
If you happen to be near downtown Seattle on a Friday night, stop by St. James Cathedral at 6:30pm for their Taizé service. It’s a beautiful and unique worship space, with the altar at the very center of the sanctuary. I had the opportunity to attend recently. It really is quite meditative, and still yet a very communal, corporate experience of meditation. Check the “Coming Events“ page beforehand to be sure, but they do have Taizé services nearly every Friday night.
Know of any other places in your area that host Taizé-like services, or have any other ideas or suggestions? Want to go to a Taizé service with someone else on the internet? Post in the comments!