Our trip started out with a long plane flight and then about 24 hours in Paris! I've been to Paris before, but only when I was in high school and so this was definitely really exciting for me! We visited Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame, and also just did some sightseeing and window shopping...and I managed to eat two different kinds of crepes!
Beautiful Rose Window in Notre Dame
We then took a boat tour of the Seine to see all the sights from the water, and then ended the evening at a beautiful (but freezing cold) Vivaldi concert at San Chapelle. The music was amazing! I was definitely wiped out enough to sleep very well, and then next day we took the train up to Taize.
These are the bell towers that greet you when you arrive. They ring before each of the services (morning, noon, and evening) to call everyone to prayer. The prayer itself is in a gorgeous church...I didn't get great photos of it, but my friend Wendy got some great shots one day when it was empty, between services:
Our days started early (for me!) with common prayer (which mostly consisted of singing, with a short Bible reading and 10 minutes of silence) at 8:20 am. Then we had breakfast, which was often bread, butter, and chocolate! All of the drinks were "powdered" - powdered coffee, strange sweetened powdered tea, and dry milk. By the end of the week, though, I'd figure out how to make a pretty awesome mocha with powdered coffee and powdered cocoa!
After breakfast, we met with our Bible discussion groups to discuss assigned passages, put together skits for the other groups, and just generally talk about our spiritual experiences and aspirations. Here's my group on our last day:
After discussion groups, we had noon-time prayer and then ate lunch together. There was some free time in the afternoon, followed by group work. Everyone had different tasks to help the community, like taping ripped songbooks, cleaning the bathrooms, etc. I was really happy to be with a group that worked outside every day, doing physical tasks around Taize to get everything ready for the Easter season. (While there were around 200-400 people while I was there, that number gets into the thousands during Easter.)
This is "Cadole", where the outside workers met every day to get their assignments.
I spent most of my time helping to wire tents like this one for electricity. I also helped build floors, power washed a giant canvas tent cover, and moved fences.
After work, we had more free time before dinner and evening prayer. At that point, I was usually way too wiped out to do anything but read a little and go to sleep, but one night my friends and I went on a star hike to look up at the sky. It was absolutely incredible how many stars you could see, being so far away from cities and light pollution.
At various points in the week, we also had the chance to visit some nearby towns. One of my favorite side trips was to Cluny, where the largest church in Europe once stood. It was mostly destroyed during the French Revolution, but it's amazing to see what still stands and the ruins and imagine how amazing it must once have been!
We also had some fantastic pastries in Cluny! The food at Taize was a bit bland, so we were really excited to try some fancy French sweets. There was one patisserie in particular that we all fell in love with, and we ended up going back three times!
We had to leave in the middle of the night to get a mini-bus back to Paris, where we flew to Philadelphia and then (finally) San Francisco - a really long trip back, but totally worth it! It was an amazing experience and I'm so grateful for the other wonderful folks on the trip and supporters in the church who made this happen. I'll leave you with the lyrics of one of my very favorite Taize hymns (which you can listen to here), the words of which have really been a touchstone for me since returning:
God is forgiveness
Dare to forgive and God is with you
God is forgiveness
Love and do not fear