Christopher Muenzen observed that the collegiate lifestyle, by its very nature, is a self-centered one that can interfere with one’s sense of spirituality and community.
“The focus of obtaining the maximum amount of return from studies and social activities, getting the most of everything — that creates a hectic environment,” explained Muenzen, 20, a junior at Cornell University. “Taize prayer gets away from that life.”
This special form of prayer was made available to Muenzen and others on campus through an appearance Oct. 29-30 by Brother John, who hails from the Taize Community in France. Brother John led two Scripture reflection sessions each day followed by Taize evening prayer that included chants, silence and candlelight. All events took place in Anabel Taylor Hall and were well-attended, according to Father Robert Smith, a chaplain in the Cornell Catholic Community.
“Considering the hectic life here at Cornell, I think Taize prayer is a great opportunity to come into a relaxed atmosphere. You’re kind of concentrated toward devotion to God while being in communion with other people there. Singing the chants together is very uplifting,” Muenzen remarked.
Brother John’s visit to Cornell occurred just weeks after the Dalai Lama had created considerable fanfare by visiting Ithaca. From Muenzen’s perspective, interest runs high among students when spiritual leaders of this stature grace the Cornell campus.
“People like coming to this stuff, even with the secular outlook of the college,” Muenzen said.
The Taize Community is an ecumenical Christian men’s monastic order in Taize, a rural part of France’s Burgundy region. It was founded in 1940 — a stark contrast to the Second World War that was raging through Europe at the time. The community places a major focus on reconciliation between divided peoples, particularly Christian, and has come to include 100-plus brothers of Catholic and various Protestant backgrounds from more than 25 countries.
Brother John, a native of Philadelphia, made his recent appearance at Cornell through his association with Father Smith, who has been a follower of Taize since the early 1970s and has visited the French community yearly.
“It’s sort of the center of my spiritual life,” Father Smith said.
Thousands of visitors worldwide descend upon Taize every year to take part in the prayers and chants done in multiple languages three times per day. The community welcomes people and traditions of all backgrounds and is especially appealing to young adults.
Brother John devotes much of his time in France to giving Bible instruction to young people who come to Taize for weeklong meetings. Muenzen is among several Cornell Catholic Community members who have visited Taize in recent years, having gone there for a week soon after the 2006-07 school year ended.
“Everybody came together singing chants, and you heard passages in different languages. People were from all over the world,” recalled Muenzen, a native of Morristown, N.J.
Yet Father Smith pointed out that Taize is not a movement or religion unto itself. Rather, the brothers seek to fortify spirituality for participants to bring back to their respective church communities.
“People experience the integrity these men have, with this life of prayer and work. There’s an enormous integrity, there aren’t any gimmicks,” Father Smith said.