Dear Donagh,

I've been to Taizé five or six times and occasionally I attend a Taizé group here at home. I love the atmosphere. Something about it pulls me in. Maybe it's the crowds, maybe it's the simplicity, maybe it's even the lousy food! This is what I want to ask your opinion about. When someone said to me a few days ago, "You're into Taizé, aren't you?" I started to think about 'into'. Could there be a touch of brainwashing or a bit of mild addiction about all these things we get 'into'? Is it right to trust this feeling about Taizé? Maybe it's just another product for spiritual consumers. What do you think?

Kevin R.

Dear Kevin,

'Into' is not a bad word! We're in an age of alienation and isolation and loneliness; or at best we're trying to get over it. It is (or was) the age of the outsider, the lost soul, the sovereign ego. The Gospel is about being 'in': the prayer of Jesus was "May they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you" (John 17:21). There's no need to suspect the feeling of solidarity and community in itself. I remember a story by Camus in which the whole meaning of a character's life turned on a single letter. In a script found after his death, there was an indecipherable word: was it 'solidaire' or 'solitaire'? It's a question for everyone: is my life to be lived in solidarity with others or is it a solitary matter?     But today it's more complex: against a general background of alienation there's a host of in-groups. This is so in the Church as in society at large. Many years ago Karl Rahner predicted that the vitality of the future Church would lie largely in small groups. It has proved an accurate prediction. It's astonishing to look at the year-planner of any retreat centre today: the acronyms of those multitudinous groups are like a new algebra!
     No one pretends, I think, that there aren't dangers. Everything alive is dangerous. It's a question of discernment. If a group is elitist or exclusive we can begin to have suspicions about its spirit. Jesus reached out to "the weak, the sick, the wounded, the strayed, the lost" (see Ezech 34), and he told the disciples to go out to the whole world. He shed his blood "for all." In the early centuries the Church decisively broke with gnosticism, which had just those characteristics I mentioned. The danger in a group, it would seem to me, doesn't lie in the intensity of the feeling of belonging but in a rejection of the outside; not in what the group is 'into', but in what it feels 'out of'.
     The inside feeling tends to want to authenticate itself without reference to the outside; it would like to be a world unto itself. But it is the outside that keeps it on the map. If you were buying a house you would pay equal attention to the inside and the outside! Both are real aspects of one and the same house. If a group doesn't want to place itself in the wide perspective of the Church (the landscape, so to speak) but rather to replace the Church community in some way, then we can begin to be suspicious of it. It is the wide perspective keeps a group from becoming a sect or a cult.
     I don't think anyone could accuse the Taizé movement of being elitist or narrow. On the contrary it has a vast vision, challenging all the Churches and calling them to a deeper unity than they are perhaps willing to settle for. It is a gift to the Churches and a concrete vision of what the Church can be. Don't worry, Kevin: even the living-quarters in Taizé discourage any feeling of settling down or settling in! Enjoy it with a good conscience!


Donagh O'Shea

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