My Sunday was hectic. After church and lunch, I went grocery store shopping, made herbed lemon tofu as quickly as I could, attended a potluck, and searched the mall for shoes. I was unable to attend my regular Sunday night youth group due to the timing of everything, so I figured I would just buy the shoes I needed and then go home. While searching the shoe store, feeling exhausted and somewhat defeated, I remembered that Taizé would be taking place a bit later at the local Episcopal Church.
I am not quite sure where I stand denominationally. I have only regularly attended Baptist churches, and I absolutely love my current (Baptist) church, but I have always felt drawn to the simplicity of the Mennonite Church, and for a few years now I have self-identified as Episcopal. These traditions are all very different, yet somehow I find myself connecting with all of them. I suppose I do not have to put a denominational label on myself, but I do think denominations are important, as the theology they espouse provides stability in churches that might otherwise wander away from core beliefs. I am uncomfortable with the idea that identifying as non-denominational is the most beneficial to the unity of the Church, simply because I do not believe that the evidence suggests that that claim is true. Perhaps I just need more time to figure it out.
I was first introduced to Taizé services by a dear friend I met at a summer theology program. She was dealing with a chronic illness of her own, and shared with me the influence that Taizé had on her life. In a sense, Taizé is a service of suffering. It is quiet, with ample time provided for silent prayer and a few songs, some as short as four measures, that are sung over and over again. The instruments are played in the back of the worship space, and in the front there are usually candles and/or religious images.
Needless to say, the Taizé service was lovely, and I was very glad that I was able to go. I did not complete any homework beforehand and knew that I was ensuring myself a late night, but I could not bring myself to prioritize my schoolwork over time of peaceful reflection with God, and I was confident that I could manage everything. It seems that Taizé is the only type of church service that does not suck any energy from me. I am constantly tired, and the pain I am in only exacerbates the fatigue. I love talking to people and I'm eager to participate in complex theological discussions whenever and wherever the opportunity arises, but during flares all of these issues seem to diminish in their importance to me. Even at school, I feel worn out by the social interaction that takes place, although I crave it simultaneously. At Taizé services, I say a short, friendly greeting when I arrive, and then I leave in total silence. Tonight, I talked to one woman and to God, and that was it. All I had to do was sit and sing and pray, and the singing component is basically optional. I do not have to worry about whether sitting down and standing up will cause a rush of pain to my knees, and I do not have to dread walking to the front to receive communion or even flipping the pages of a hymnal. I do not even have to worry about how to respond when someone asks me what is wrong, or if I am okay. The simplicity of Taizé makes my broken body feel capable and whole.
I am constantly distracting myself from pain. How else am I supposed to cope? I stay busy and do my best to keep up with everything. Taizé services are gentle and focused; I am unable to distract myself, and I am keenly aware of every part of my body that hurts. This seems like it would be an awful experience, but it actually is not. Instead, I feel like God is recognizing my suffering, and I am allowing myself to stop my desperate attempts to distract my mind for an hour. I refuse to accept theology that tells me that God is testing me through my illness, or that it is some type of punishment. I even resent "greater plan" theology, which suggests that God made me sick to make me a better person. Who would do that? It seems cruel to me. Worshipping in Taizé services feels like receiving a gentle hug from a God who is just as saddened by flaring joints as I am. During Taizé, God is weeping with me.
One of my favorite hymns is "Servant Song." My favorite part of the song is,
"I will weep when you are weeping,
when you laugh I'll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we've seen this journey through."
There is something beautiful about ditching heroism in favor of empathy. There are times when problems need to be fixed, and proactive responses must be taken by those in power. However, there are also times when nothing can be done. I think we shy away from those times because they make us uncomfortable. We hate feeling useless or helpless, especially when someone else is in pain. But sometimes, all someone needs is a presence. Maybe, helping just means sharing tears, or holding a hand, or giving a hug. When my grandmother on my mother's side passed away, a funeral was held for her in a city about an hour away. My mother still remembers the church members who attended that funeral, solemnly hugging my family and offering their condolences. I think the reason that she remembers who came so well is that few people are actually willing to weep with someone else. Weeping hurts; it is not fun, and it is not the type of thing you send out a flowery invitation to. Yet what could be more human? What could be more holy?
There are a billion things I want to do with my life, and I am still figuring all of that out, but I am quite confident that I would like to be a hospital chaplain for at least a few years. I think being a chaplain for people who are suffering or dying would be enlightening. I also know that I am the type of person who is always ready to weep with someone or laugh with someone. It is a job that would fit me well. Most people give me a bewildered look when I reveal this part of myself to them, and I understand it completely. How could someone voluntarily subject themselves to that amount of pain? But I understand pain, and I understand healthcare, at least to the degree I am able to given my past and current experiences. There is some sense of responsibility that comes with this intimate knowledge, an obligation to use it to provide empathy for other individuals. Along with the call to laugh when someone is laughing there is an even more divine call to weep when someone is weeping, whether or not their reason seems ridiculous, or they have cried about it a thousand times before, or they are what society would deem a "lost cause." I want to accept the call to weep as fully and as humbly as I can.