In 2000, I had visited Taizé for a week with another group of college students. I was very much looking forward to returning, even for a few days.
When we’re looking forward to something, it’s hard not to have expectations. But expectations often disappoint, because we can’t revisit the past (or foretell the future!).
Many of my expectations were disappointed.
When we stepped off the bus at Taizé, I did not expect to be in the middle of very loud dance music and a group of noisy, rowdy French high school students. This was not what I remembered as the greeting in peaceful, quiet Taize!
As it turned out, we chose to visit during the two weeks of the year that the French high schools are on holiday. The brothers try to be hospitable and accommodate the many students that come. At other times of the year, groups come on Sunday and stay all week. But during these two weeks, groups come for three or four days, which is one of the reasons Taizé agreed to let us come Thursday and leave Sunday. So thanks to the unusual schedule of these two special weeks, we were able to be at Taizé for just a few days — but with thousands of French high school students.
They were not quiet. Many (most?!) of them were rowdy. They had trouble quieting down for the worship, even when the volunteers carrying the big “SILENCE” signs would pause meaningfully at a giggling group and stare at them!
Our mature Bethel University students claimed that many of these high schoolers acted worse than THEY ever had in high school! Being with thousands of French high schoolers certainly did change the experience from what I was expecting.
So what to do when my expectations are not met? Always a temptation to pout, blame (why didn’t they tell us that we were sharing this time with all these 13-18 year olds!?!), get angry or isolate.
But I found this classic spiritual direction question ringing in my ears, “What might be God’s invitation in all this?” What might God be gently inviting us into, even amidst the noise and chaos of thousands of young teenagers?!
I’ve already expressed one invitation — to let go of my expectations, created from one visit in 2000, and to see what new thing God might be up to. I began to look around and see what God might be up to amidst the noise — to look beyond the outer confusion to see the hunger and desire that was certainly in some, if not most, of the young people. Most do come to have an experience of the love and fire of the Holy Spirit that is at the center of Taizé life and worship.
Europe is an extremely secular culture. One evening when we were in the mob waiting for dinner (hard to call it a “line”!), Dan and I overheard two priests talking about the young people they work with. One priest, from Germany, said the youth he works with are really mocked by their friends if they are known to participate in religious activities. This priest wanted his students to come to Taizé and see that thousands of other young people in Europe were also seeking for God.
We heard something similar from our “host”, Brother Emil. He said that despite the annoying, distracting behavior of many of the youth, they often come back a few years later (then the age of OUR students!) and say that something very significant happened to them during their time at Taizé when they were 16. So the brothers keep offering hospitality, even though it must be very disruptive for them!
God’s invitation to me certainly included looking beyond my individual expectations to see the hospitality of the brothers in a new way, to glimpse the hunger for God even among a boisterous crowd of teenagers!