May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.
At the start of the summer, I went as part of a Diocesan group on a pilgrimage to Taize in France. Now when Lauretta heard that I was going, she asked if I would preach on it, and I then thought, ‘oh what am I going to say.’ I arrived at Taize and still thought ‘wow what am I going to say’ because you can’t describe Taize well enough to people, to give it justice. But I will try.
A pilgrimage to Taize is fields, church three times a day, loads of young Christians, monks, some rather interesting food and I use that term loosely, prayer and reflection, laughter, friendship and one of the most amazing places in the world. That is honestly how I would describe it.
So a little history about Taize. Taize is a monastic community, which has a focus of ecumenism, so it does not matter if you are protestant or catholic or someone with no faith you are accepted there, which, for me, was one of the best things. The community was sent up in 1940 by Brother Roger, who has now passed on after his murder, but the loss of Brother Roger does not change the focus of Taize, it is still a place of reconciliation, which he intended it to be during the war, a place where people could seek refuge. His drive to establish the community was to seek a way of living out scriptures, but in a different Christian way. Taize is now one the world’s most visited sites of pilgrimage and is known as a place of reconciliation
So what happens in Taize? A typical day in Taizé includes the following activities:
- •morning prayer
- •large group Bible study
- •small group discussions
- •midday prayer
- •afternoon work or bible study
- •discussion with the brothers
- •evening prayer
Now I will share some of the funny parts from Taize before I talk about what I learned. We were in our large bible study group, and a brother asked me to share my experience on a workshop from the day before, so I did. I sat down again, and then he wanted someone to help read the scripture. So he pointed at me and said “you Jake have very good English you can read”. So up I went, and he said “you English is very good, where are you from?” “England” I said. “Ah that will be why then!” He was a lovely guy.
For me Taize was an invaluable experience, one which has developed my faith further, opened my mind, created wonderful friendships with people from other parts of the world and one which created an unexpected but amazing relationship.
Now, there is one message which I would like to talk about, and it is that of silence. In Taize, there was a lot of silence, you had to be silent in church before prayer, and these people walked around with silence boards to keep you quiet. I must confess, I did get told off a few times for talking! But while I was in Taize, I was learnt to appreciate and understand the importance of silence. In the services, in the middle, there was a period of silence for between six and ten minutes. When you first arrive there this is quite a long time. But I loved the silence; it gave me time to pray personally, to reflect and to listen to God. And it was at Taize I asked myself the question, are we ever silent enough?
And are we? If we think about our daily lives, when in our day do we just have times of silence? When in church do we have silence, we don’t really, we go from the opening hymns, to the greeting and prayers of penitence, to the readings, to another hymn, to the gospel and sermon, then onto the peace and then the offertory hymn, followed by the Eucharistic prayer and the giving of the sacraments, to another hymn, and ending with the blessing and dismissal. Where in that service do we have a real time of silence? For me, there isn’t any really.
One of the things I wanted to get out of Taize was to deepen the discernment of my vocation, the only problem was, that I didn’t know how best to do this in Taize, so after evening prayer one night I spoke with Brother Paolo and asked him. And he pulled a few faces, looked at bit surprised, but then he gave some invaluable advice. He said, “Give time to God to allow him to ask you questions, and not always ask God questions. Have some time for God, for you to sit and listen and answer God, because if we’re always jabbering, how can we listen to God and learn what God wants us to do with our lives”. That is some of the best vocations advice I’ve had and it is what fuelled me into preaching on the topic of silence.
The scriptures tell us to listen to God and to those whom we share with, in a variety of way, in Revelations 3:20 it says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Proverbs 19:20 says “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” How can we listen as scripture tell us too, if we are never silent enough to hear the voice of God and the voice of those around us. If you think about it, the idea of silence and reflection is part of our everyday relationships, relationships cannot last if there is only ever one person doing all the talking, there has to be some give and take, if we speak we also have to listen.
Don’t underestimated the power of silence, silence can be a very powerful thing, it is often in moments of silence that we discover the most about God and about our individual faith. And it was in moments of quietness that Elijah heard the voice of The Lord. The first book of Kings, chapter 19 verses 11-14 say this,
11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
For Elijah, God was not is the wrath of the wind, or the might of the earthquake or the majesty of the blazing fire, but rather Elijah found God through the silence. Once all of the distractions had stopped Elijah heard a small voice in the silence. The voice of God. And for us like Elijah, God isn’t always found in the storms, or the majesty of fire, where we might expect to find him, but in the silence, we can find God.
Silence gives us the time to stop for a moment and to listen. Time spent reading the scriptures in silence can be more powerful than you would expect, so much can be revealed through the scriptures if we just listen to what they are saying to us. God gave us two ears, so he obviously wants us to listen to him. So when you next pray, remember to stop at the end and give some time for God to answer you, listen to what he has to say, take time out of your busy daily life always from the distractions and if God has something to say to you let him say it through the silence and if you do, I can say from my Taize experience you will have your faith enriched. God can be found is some of the most unexpected places, and in the silence is one of them.
In the name the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.