Peace and Tragedy
David Tatem writes:
From July 17th to 24th I was on retreat at the Taizé Community in Burgundy, France. It is a place I have visited many times since 1973, the year of my first visit as a young student. It has become my spiritual home over the years and I owe far more to it than to my particular Reformed heritage. It is a place of remarkable stillness and spiritual depth which draws people, young and old alike, back to roots of simplicity in their faith characterised by a focus on peace and reconciliation. Many will be familiar with the beautiful Taizé chants that often assist the worship of churches the world over but may not be aware of the deep wells of faith from which they are drawn.
It was a unique and challenging experience therefore, to arrive at the church of the Reconciliation for the three times a day prayer to be greeted by armed soldiers in dark glasses and battle fatigues monitoring the crowd of about three thousand, mostly young people, approaching the church and checking any vehicles that might pose a threat.
We were, of course, all aware of what had just happened in Nice but the murder of a priest at the altar of his church in northern France was still to come.
Taizé is no stranger to such things. Brother Roger, the prior and founder of Taizé, was murdered during the evening prayer there eleven years ago. His killer was not a terrorist but someone with severe mental issues, nevertheless it was a challenge to the spirit of welcome and deliberate vulnerability that lays at the heart not only of Taizé but of any worshipping community that attempts to live the gospel. Since the murder of Brother Roger there has been no attempt to shield the brothers from any similar attack, to separate them from risk. There may be a heightened degree of awareness but the availability of the brothers and the willingness to be open to risk remains the same.
Of course the presence of armed soldiers around the church seems to contradict this but the present nature of the threats is aimed not only at priests, despite what has just occurred, but at crowds of innocent people. The carnage that could be wreaked, for example by a suicide bomber at the heart of the throng of worshippers packed together in the church at Taizé would be terrible. What was unbroken last week at Taizé despite the knowledge of potential risk, was the peace, the silence the depth of trust and faith and the determination to live the love of Christ, come what may, that is engendered every day in that place. It is not naive nor is it unthinking, it is a fragile and yet very potent gift that Taizé and the whole church can offer, at great cost, to a world that seems to be breaking into pieces.
Revd David Tatem
Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, United Reformed Church