I spent my first two days at Taizé in relative quiet. I wasn’t totally silent, but I wasn’t a social butterfly either. I took long walks around the retreat center, went for beautiful runs in the picturesque French countryside, journaled in my notebook, and, of course, sang.
I thought that was what I wanted.
It had been a long time since I’d retreated from the world to gather my thoughts, or meditate, or pray, or just be. And in previous times, what I had needed from a retreat was the silence and the quite. The times in my life when I’ve attended retreats have often been some of the busiest times of my life. That busyness caused me to run in the other direction, toward quiet and calm and solitude.
But now, my life is not so busy. My job fills my time, as does my continued status as a part time student. I’ve also spent a fair amount of hours submitting applications, writing personal statements, and filling out financial forms in preparation for graduate school next year. But it still leaves me with plenty of free time to reflect in my daily life: I get to write, to paint sometimes, to run every day if I want. I have the time to sit and think and read.
So, although I thought a retreat into the quiet was what I wanted, it turns out I was wrong. Silence was not what I needed at all.
As a student, I found my home-away-from-home at our university’s campus ministry. The campus ministers, fellow interns, other students: they became my community. They were my family and my home. The aspect of this community that I loved most was an event that happened twice yearly, called the Search Retreat. Search was a weekend when students left our immaculate campus in the Silicon Valley to retreat to the wooded Santa Cruz Mountains. For two and a half days we’d listen to talks, discuss life in small groups, and get to know ourselves and each other better.
I have so many glorious memories of these retreats. Yet the thing I’ve most frequently recalled has been the talk that was always given at the end of the retreat entitled “Community of Faith.” In this lecture, a student leader would discuss where he or she found a sense of community in their life; where he or she drew inspiration, motivation, strength, and love. Sometimes it was in the expected places: a church or a youth group. Other times it was from less obvious sources: amongst friends from a theatre group, in Florence during a study abroad year, or with some orphans they had played Connect Four with once in Africa.
I’ve thought of this talk often recently because in the years since university, I feel a little bit like I’ve lost my community of faith. I’ve wandered the world; met incredible people; wondered at beauty, and generosity, and compassion. But I haven’t really found a community.
It turns out that this was what I needed at Taizé.
My third night at Taizé, I returned to the common room at the end of the night. Normally I had journaled or read before bed, but this night I wandered to where there might be more people gathered. And I’m so glad I did. Because there I found again my community of faith. In one evening, my time at Taizé went from what I thought I wanted, to what it turned out I truly needed. The rest of my week there was still filled with peace. I still went jogging through Burgundy’s country roads, I still journaled, and I still found time for contemplation. But to balance out that quiet was laughter, discussion, and companionship. With some Swedes, an Italian, a Canadian, a couple of Americans, a whole host of Germans, people from France, and men and women from all over the world, I felt entirely at home.
Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and think we know exactly what it is we want in life. Sometimes we get cocky, think we are more wise and worldly than we are. But we’re often wrong. For, sometimes, we’ve needed something so long, that we’ve forgotten the need existed.
At Taizé I was lucky. Because life, or God, or the Ultimate, or however you want to phrase it, saw to it that I got exactly what I needed. In a place I only spent a week, I found the love, and companionship, and inspiration to carry me forward toward my future.
Among a collection of international strangers, I found friends and family and community.
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Read some more:
This month in 2011: Notes from the Borderlands…
This time of year in 2012: The Meaning of COLD