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What Is Taizé Worship? An Introduction

 
 
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Author: Warren Anderson
 
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Posted August 5, 2014 by

P

urists, prepare to harrumph. That long, low, guttural sound you hear emanating from the east is the mooing of the sacred cow of Taizé worship on its way to the slaughter.

For the uninitiated, Taizé worship grew out of the ecumenical community established in 1940 in Taizé, France, by Brother Roger. Though Taizé is often associated with Catholicism, Brother Roger was a Swiss Protestant by birth, and his mission initially was simply to aid refugees during World War II. (Consult the all-encompassing Taizé website for more of the history and current ministry of this fascinating community: www.taize.fr.)

The Beauty of Sung prayer
Eventually, the type of simple, acoustic corporate worship that evolved within the community began to attract pilgrims, and today thousands of (mostly young) adults converge upon the Taizé compound for weeklong times of spiritual nourishment. The repetitive, chant-like melodies are beautiful, and friends of mine who have attended services there say the focus on worship as sung prayer combined with the aesthetics of candlelight and visual symbols of our faith, is overwhelming.

Although I’ve never been to Taizé, I regularly take students to an excellent Taizé prayer service in suburban Chicago, and over the years the responses of these young people—the vast majority of whom attend large evangelical churches seeking to be culturally relevant (which Taizé worship most definitely is not)—gives me the boldness to assert the following, which will be anathema to most Taizé aficionados: It’s time to take Taizé worship out of the quiet, candle-lit cathedrals and into the media-frenzied converted warehouses where many of us worship these days. Why?

1)     Taizé worship counteracts the self-focus about which many detractors of current worship practices groan.
The extent to which self-references predominate in contemporary American worship is debatable (and I would argue things are getting better), but wherever congregations focus more on me than Thee, Taizé choruses, with their frequent emphasis on rejection of self and embrace of God, put things in proper perspective.

2)     Taizé worship fosters communal worship.
In the past I have argued that contemporary worship sometimes unwittingly “kills” worship, in the sense that the various displays of prowess on stage threaten to distract us from the purpose of corporate worship, the lifting up of all voices in praise. Taizé, with its simple and easily learned melodies, takes the emphasis off the presentation and puts it on the participation.

3)     Taizé worship is a great way to involve musicians who normally don’t get a chance to share their gifts in contemporary worship.
Do you have a first-or-second-chair-in-the-high-school-orchestra violinist in your youth group? Any stay-at-home moms who used to play flute in the marching band back in the day? Excellent Taizé orchestrations for almost all of the songs are available through GIA Music (giamusic.com). Exploring some of the better Taizé choruses can help worship leaders expand their church’s musical palette.

4)     Taizé worship can translate into contemporary worship.
It’s a misconception that every Taizé tune is slow and sedate. In three separate worship ministry settings (two churches and one Christian college), I have seen more upbeat Taizé fare (and a few slower pieces) work with a typical praise-band lineup of electric instruments and drums. It takes a little bit of effort, but it can be done.

If you deem this a worthy venture, here are two hints for success:
1)     Do the songs in English.
Save singing them in the original languages for smaller, more intimate gatherings where there will likely be better buy-in for this kind of display of diversity.

2)     Taizé often features individual descants sung over the top of the corporate ostinato.
The effect is gorgeous in smaller groups but gets lost in large congregations. Turn the descants into verses (sung either individually or corporately) and let the choruses function as they would in a typical A-B format.

Here are three upbeat Taizé tunes to try with your praise band:

1)     “Laudate Dominum” (“Sing, Praise, and Bless the Lord”). A rollicking call to worship in A minor and ¾ time with verses from various psalms. Your rhythm section will love this tune for its deep groove.

2)     “El Senyor” (“In the Lord”). A mid-tempo song of thanksgiving and comfort: “In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful. … Look to God, do not be afraid.” I have used this tune in Thanksgiving Eve services with great success.

3)     “Jubilate, Alleluia” (“Shout to God with Joy”). A universal hymn of praise with optional wonderful woodwind trio accompaniment. Verses from Psalm 66.

 

 

Warren Anderson teaches communication arts and worship arts classes and serves as Dean of the Chapel at Judson University. He is also the Worship Pastor at the Elgin Evangelical Free Church, and serves on the editorial board of Worship Leader for which he writes a monthly column and special features.

 

 


5 Comments


  1.  
    Dan

    Warren,

    Thanks for the reminder! I remember that service and it was an amazing experience. I had no idea what to think of it at first, and not sure how to engage at all, except to sing along. About 15 repetitions in I though, “Welp, I wonder how long this will go on.” By the 30th repeat I found myself submitting myself to the Lord through,

    “In the Lord I’ll be ever faithful; in the Lord, I will rejoice.
    Look to God, do not be afraid;
    Lift up your voices, the Lord is near!
    Lift up your voices, the Lord is near!”

    I haven’t heard the song since, but it’s still in my mind, and it’s still true.

    As for the responses below (Kirk and Corey), this probably isn’t for everyone. However, I think your treatment of scripture in light of this article misinterprets Taize, Scripture, or both.

    Corey – You said the following:

    “A relationship is what it is all about. Time spent alone in prayer and in His word. The point of coming together as a body of believers is to Worship our heavenly father three in one with the saints here on earth as the chains of bondage become eased through declaring who HE is. After the family of Christ has worshipped to and the Word of God read, then they all love on one another and edify.”

    In Taize worship, a body of believers comes together to worship our triune heavenly Father with other saints to declare who HE is. The Word of God is read melodically, and therefore memorized and internalized. Afterward, there is fellowship and edification. This gathering supplements time spent alone in prayer and in His word. Both aim to cultivate that relationship. It looks like what you think a service should be is exactly what a Taize service is. I suggest you check one out.

    Kirk – Contemplative prayer was a part of the Christian faith way before new age.

    “I meditate on your precepts; and consider your ways.
    I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”
    – Psalm 119:15-16

    “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
    nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
    but his delight is in the law[b] of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.”
    – Psalm 1: 1-2

    Acknowledging cultural differences between then and now, I wonder what the Psalmists would think of this article if we said, “Hey, Psalmist, we want to meditate on God’s word. We want to sing it over and over and over again. We want it to penetrate our being, make it stick in our heads and hearts. And, by the way, we’re using instruments.”

    He might say something like,
    “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
    Praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
    Praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.”
    – Psalm 150: 3-5

    All things considered, I think we are all after the same thing – Worshiping the Lord in Spirit and in Truth, and having God, not us, be the center of our worship. Both are reflected in this article.




  2.  
    Nathan
     
     
     
     
     

    Thanks for the write up. My first exposure to this music was at summer camp from a pastor who taught us “Within Our Darkest Night”. It because a camp hit because of its prayerful quality and because it was an opportunity to share great music from another part of the world. It was a teaching moment to be able to talk about how we are connected through Christ despite geography or language.

    In fact, the kids recorded that song a couple summers ago, and I think they did a pretty good job of rocking it:
    http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/campsongsvol2




  3.  
    corey

    You are right on Kirk! This is nothing more than man trying to get to God via an adulterous attempt other than a relationship. A relationship is what it is all about. Time spent alone in prayer and in His word. The point of coming together as a body of believers is to Worship our heavenly father three in one with the saints here on earth as the chains of bondage become eased through declaring who HE is. After the family of Christ has worshipped to and the Word of God read, then they all love on one another and edify. This is likened to participating in an orgy an adulterous relationship based on stroking the senses. Its a shame there isn’t an editor that holds purity to its highest standard. God’s warning from the very beginning was not to give yourselves or sons and daughters into marriage unto other nations. The one true God is a jealous God. This is another reflection of the condition of mainstream American Christianity and how it has become diluted/watered down and people don’t know how to watch out for the wolf in sheep’s clothing because of their lack of knowledge in the word of God. Look at the last great king in the old testament, King Josiah. The temple filled with this knick knack and that idol, this program and that book and the word of God was left neglected to collect dust. Revival came when Josiah opened the word of God and began to read right from its pages. The leaders will be held at a higher standard for leading the little ones astray. Beware this is adulterous and God will not be mocked. There is absolute truth not build your own god to worship.




  4.  
    Robert

    Kirk,
    rather than just dismissing it completely, please note that Taize its not mindless: you are to understand the words. The different languages are used in certain contexts, but you can use only the english words as Warren mentions above. So John 4:24 still applies, and rest assured there is no trance entering!
    blessings




  5.  
    Kirk

    Sounds very much like contemplative prayer which is straight out of New Age. Mindless repetition of words you don’t understand is very much NOT worship like the Bible tells us to do.

    John 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

    Where is the truth here if you are singing and chanting repetitive words in Latin? Hindus chat meaningless words until they enter a trance. Is Taize a french word for Trance?

    Psalm 1:2, Jos 1:8





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