Finding Peace in Uncertain Times: Taize

Several weeks ago, I noticed that the most viewed post on my blog was Taize: Veni Sancte Spiritus. This morning I checked the stats and see that in the last quarter that post has been viewed 482 times. It is a 2016 post, so most viewers are probably finding my post through a Taize internet search. It is understandable that people would be looking for peace and inspiration from Taize music during the pandemic.

Below is the English version of Veni Sancte Spiritus. To read about some of my experiences with Taize, to hear the original version of the song and to read the English lyrics go to my 2016 post.

In normal times, there are congregations singing Taize music in Christian churches (Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, etc.) all over the world. Yesterday, a friend sent me the link to a choir that was created to sing a Taize song pandemic style.

There are many more Taize songs on YouTube.

Taize: Veni Sancte Spiritus

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This has been such a difficult week for me, as it has been for many of us. It seems like so much of what I hold dear is in danger.

From time to time during the last two days, a song from a monastery in France has come to my mind. That song is Veni Sancte Spiritus.

The Taize monastery is dedicated to the reunification of the Christian church. At this point there are 100 brothers living there. They come from various Catholic and Protestant denominations and are from 30 different countries.

Taize music touched me to the core the first time I heard it and that has never changed. I visited the French monastery with friends in 2003 or 2004. We had the privilege of spending part of one evening with Brother Roger, their founder. He was in his late 80’s at the time of our visit.

I will never forget that experience. I felt like I was in the presence of a master. One or two years later, he was murdered in the temple. The world lost a great soul that night, but his work lives on.

There are Catholic and Protestant churches singing Taize music all over the world. Those services are always ecumenical.

I have picked a version of Veni Sante Spiritus that includes several different languages (I don’t know how many languages since I only understand English!) When I started the video and the music began, I burst into tears once again.

Following the first video, there will be another one that is in English. And at the end of the post you will find the lyrics in English. The photos in the first video are from the Taize monastery.

I chose to put the video prior to the lyrics so you had an opportunity to get a sense of the song without knowing what it meant. Here is the English version followed by the lyrics. It is also a very beautiful version. As I am listening to it my tears are still pouring.

Lyrics

Come, Holy Spirit, from heaven shine forth with your glorious light.
Veni Sancte Spiritus

Come, Father of the poor, come, generous Spirit, come,
light of our hearts.
Veni Sancte Spiritus

Come from the four winds, O Spirit, come breath of God;
disperse the shadows over us, renew and
strengthen your people.
Veni Sancte Spiritus

Most kindly warming light! Enter the inmost depths of our hearts,
for we are faithful to you.
Without your presence we have nothing worthy, nothing pure.
Veni Sancte Spiritus

You are only comforter, Peace of the soul.
In the heat you shade us; in our labour you refresh us,
and in trouble you are our strength.
Veni Sancte Spiritus

On all who put their trust in you and receive you in faith,
shower all your gifts.
Grant that they may grow in you and persevere to the end.
Give them lasting joy!
Veni Sancte Spiritus

Read more: http://www.letssingit.com/taize-lyrics-veni-sancte-spiritus-t9tpw88#ixzz4PrsEY2x0
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My Spirit Soaring

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

When I read Sreejit’s post “Dungeon Prompts: Take Me To Church” this past Thursday, I instantly knew what the nature of my response to the prompt would be.  Even so, I had the sense that I shouldn’t write it then and there. Now I know why.

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On Sunday evening, I attended the ordination of a friend who was becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister. She had worked towards that goal for many years. It was a day of great celebration. The ordination rituals affected me in ways that I hadn’t expected. Towards the beginning of the ceremony, there was a procession of already-ordained ministers. It reminded me of college graduations where the professors walk in, each clothed in different robes reflecting the school they had attended. I took one look at these ministers and my “being” erupted in grief. Grief of recognition, grief of longing. Was it related to past lives? Maybe. Probably.  That grief came again as the group of ministers walked out of the sanctuary during the recessional.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
tears flowing
touched to the core
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During the ordination, in addition to thoroughly enjoying my friend’s experience, I was flooded with ideas for this post. Ideas continued to “come” for the rest of the night.  By the next morning, I was ready to write!

Otto_Greiner_Betende_HändePhoto Credit: Wikimedia

Spirit has “taken me to church” so many times during my life.

I remember feeling embarrassed as an eight to ten year old child when my mother brought a friend to my bedroom as I was kneeling beside my bed praying. I also remember avidly reading books and watching movies about nuns in my early teen years.  I had a sense I was “supposed” to become a nun, but that was not possible.  I wasn’t Catholic!

When I was in tenth grade, and living in Hawaii, I went to a Billy Graham crusade and became a born again Christian. Afterwards, I joined a Youth for Christ group at my high school. I remember the group traveling together on buses, singing hour after hour. That was pure bliss for me. I felt like I was part of a family, I belonged!.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
joy abounds
Home

 Beliefs Men Live By

At the end of that year, my father retired from the Army, and we moved to Florida. I attended a Congregational church, which was my mother’s denomination. I loved being part of the youth group. During the summer of 1965, we traveled from Florida to Washington State and back, studying The Belief’s Men Live By. I still have many memories of that summer. It was also the time I decided I would go to a Free Methodist college in Seattle.

When I arrived at the college, I was still a fairly conservative Christian, much more conservative than my Congregational friends. The college that I attended was so conservative though that over time I became very disillusioned, and for the next twenty years considered myself to be somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist.

Spirit did not leave me during those darker times though. I loved to go to the University Unitarian Church the day after Christmas to participate in a Messiah Sing-a-Long.  I went every year until I started spending every Christmas season in India. Singing the Messiah was such a highlight in my life.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
joy abounds
Home

 

About the same time, I started attending the Unitarian summer camp at Seabeck Conference Center. My children and I participated in that camp every summer for thirteen years. There I had the opportunity to be with a group that was like an extended family, where there were plenty of hugs, lots of rest, and fun, and children were cared for by all of the attendees.  Crossing the bridge into the conference center was like traveling to another world.  My whole body would relax and I could breathe fully.  I considered Seabeck to be my home in the universe for many years.  In fact, I still consider it to be one of my homes.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
my soul is at rest
Home

 

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I was still quite negative about anything spiritual.  I reached a point when even hearing the word God made me feel sick to my stomach. That changed the night I went to Amma’s Seattle program in 1989. In the months prior to that event, spiritual people started showing up in my life, much to my dismay. In fact, it was one of them who had invited me to go to Amma’s program. My internal response to her was “NO” but “YES” came out of my mouth. When the day arrived, I walked into the room after the program had already started. As Amma and the Swamis (monks) began to sing, I burst into tears. My tears lasted throughout the night and I entered into deep meditational states. What was happening to me? My friend had told me that she thought I would like it once I adjusted to the cultural differences. What cultural differences? I had never had any contact with Eastern spirituality yet I felt completely at home.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
tears flowing
touched to the core
Home

 

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I went back to Amma’s program the next night, and to part of her retreat on Orcus Island the following weekend. Six weeks later, I attended her retreat in New Hampshire and six months after that took my first trip to India. Being an Amma devotee has been the center of my life, and the life of my children, ever since.

One of the first changes I noticed after I met Amma was that I was able to separate my love for Christ from my anger at the Christian church. In time, even my anger at the church decreased. After all we are all human and are doing the best we can on this life’s journey. My spiritual life once again became my major focus.

Being with Amma, however, had opened a part of me that I didn’t know existed, a part that contained so much grief.  I was still experiencing deep, and often spontaneous, trance states.   At times, I felt as if some part of me was at a party that the conscious part of me was not invited to.  Although I was very curious about that, I sensed it was a protective mechanism.  If I was experiencing this much grief without knowing what was happening, what would I be feeling if I knew.  I believed I was experiencing the grief of longing, longing for union with God.  When I was with Amma I usually felt a sense of peace and fullness.  But when I was away, my separation grief flared.

Through grace, Spirit led me to many places and situations that made the time away from Amma more comfortable.  They often were areas where left brained, reserved Carol Poole (my name before I asked and received a name from Amma in 1990) would never have considered going.

  • Soon after I met Amma, I started studying the tabla, an Indian drum. Over time I became aware that my tabla teacher was the leader of a rock band called Tribal Therapy. He invited me to come to a show but said I probably wouldn’t like it since it was rock music. When I went to his concert, I discovered his songs were all spiritually based. I had never danced before but something inside of me “turned on” and I danced the night away, filled with joy. I started attending his band’s performances as often as I could. I was one of the last people I would have expected to ever become involved with an Indian guru, and now, at 41 years-of-age, I had also become a band groupie.  Unbelievable!
  • One day in 1991, I walked to a service station near my home, inexplicably taking a different route than I would normally take. As I passed an open field I noticed a sign that said “Tent Revival starting August 28.”  A big “YES” erupted within me as I gazed at the sign. I was very surprised at my reaction because at that time I still felt very separate from the Christian church.  I eagerly awaited the night of the revival and when it came, it was wonderous. The revival was sponsored by Power House Church of God in Christ, which is an African-American church whose roots are in the Deep South. People were dancing in the spirit, speaking in tongues, praising God, and singing.  The sermon spoke to me, even though I needed to reframe some of the content. The Gospel music sent me into ecstasy. I started attending that church regularly, and did so for many years. Being in that environment “fed me” during the times I was away from Amma. Early on, my body started dancing spontaneously, in a form that was similar to a whirling dervish. The whirling felt familiar, probably from lifetimes long past. I found it hard to believe that I was once again attending a conservative Christian church, a Pentecostal one at that. I loved that I was able to immerse myself in the experience and was treated with love and respect by the congregation even though I had beliefs that were very different from theirs.  At one point, from the pulpit, the minister claimed ME as a member of the church.  (I had never joined because I didn’t believe parts of their Statement of Faith.)  I felt so grateful and blessed.
  • In 2000, when I visited St. James Cathedral in Seattle, a flyer caught my eye. It was for a Taize service that was going to take place in the church in a half hour. I decided to wait and see what Taize was. When the service started and the music began, my tears flowed.  The grief I felt was so familiar. The music used a call-response style and was in a variety of languages. Soloists sang the call portion and the congregation responded. After some time, the congregation continued with the main chant, and the soloists started singing melodies above it. The moment they started singing in that way, my body filled with bliss. I soon learned that Taize was the name of a monastery in France, one that is dedicated to reconciliation of the Christian church. I attended the weekly Taize service at St. James Cathedral for some time. Years later, two friends and I visited the French monastery when we were on our way to Amma’s ashram in India.  Below you will find a video of the monks singing my favorite Taize song, Veni Sancte Spiritus.

Each of these experiences tapped into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
joy abounds
Home

 

There have been many special times on this spiritual journey of mine but these events have been some of the highlights. The path has taken me one place and then another. What stays consistent throughout is Amma. My journey with her has been the center of my life since 1989, and probably for lifetimes before this one. While Spirit has led me in many directions, the place where I feel most at Home is when I am enveloped in Amma’s arms.

Amma's hug

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
my soul at rest
Home

 

Written for Dungeon Prompts: Take Me to Church and Weekly Photo Challenge: Enveloped

Amma’s North American Summer Tour begins in Washington State on May 30. To see her entire tour schedule click here

Memories of Taize

Yesterday, I read a beautiful and moving poem, Remaining True, written by Wendell A. Brown.  The picture that went with the poem contained the words from Psalms 103:1  “Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”

The Psalm reminded me of a song from Taize that I love, Bless the Lord My Soul.  I found it on YouTube and played it.  As I listened, tears came to my eyes.

Wikipedia says this about Taize:

The Taizé Community is an ecumenical monastic order in Taizé, Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy, France. It is composed of more than one hundred brothers, from Protestant and Catholic traditions, who originate from about thirty countries across the world. It was founded in 1940 by Brother Roger Schütz, a Reformed Protestant. Guidelines for the community’s life are contained in The Rule of Taizé[1] written by Brother Roger and first published in French in 1954.

The community has become one of the world’s most important sites of Christian pilgrimage. Over 100,000 young people from around the world make pilgrimages to Taizé each year for prayer, Bible study, sharing, and communal work. Through the community’s ecumenical outlook, they are encouraged to live in the spirit of kindness, simplicity and reconciliation.

In December of 2001,  two friends and I went to Taize on our way to Amma’s ashram in India.   I felt so blessed to be in the presence of Brother Roger.  He radiated a spiritual energy that was so palpable….. and so kind.

Below you will find YouTube videos of two Taize songs.  The first is Bless the Lord My Soul and the second is my favorite Taize song, Veni Sancte Spiritus.  I picked this version to share with you not only because the music is beautiful, but also because it has pictures of Taize and of Brother Roger.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

As I listened to the second song, tears started pouring down my cheeks.  There are places in Seattle where Taize chants are sung regularly.  It is time for me to go again….. very soon!