T is for…

Taizé. For me, one of the most beautiful and sacred places I have ever been.

Although an ecumenical community, Taizé seems to be best know within the Roman Catholic church. I suppose because its founder, Brother Roger was Catholic.

It would be very difficult for me to explain the experience that Taizé offers without sounding a little strange, so I am hesitant to even attempt to articulate a post about it. However, taking the risk, I’m going to use a combination of pictures and words to describe this awesome place.

First and foremost, Taizé is a monastic community nestled in the beautiful hills of Burgundy, France. Just as the second world war was breaking out, a 25 year old man from Switzerland crossed the border and bought a house in the hills. Feeling the call to set up a community, he bought a small house in the area, which also happened to be quite close to the demarcation line dividing France in two: it was well situated for sheltering refugees fleeing the war. Friends from Lyon started giving the address of Taizé to people in need of a place of safety.

After the war, a young lawyer set up an association to look after children whose parents were killed in the war. Joined by a number of other ‘brothers’ and sisters, the community began to care for these children and also German prisoners of war.

And so a religious community began… More and more young men heard about this place and came along to test their vocation and begin a lifelong commitment to serving Christ.

Today, over a hundred brothers from 30 different nations, both Catholic and Protestant make up the community, founded by the late, humble and beautifully gentle ‘Frere Roger’ and now led by his successor, Brother Alois .

Taize has become a place where thousands of young people come on a weeks retreat, following the monastic rhythm of the day and seeking God through prayer, meditation, song and fellowship. It is the one place where I have found true peace and indescribable friendships, laughter and fun!

taize2

Never, in all my life, could I imagine a church, with over 6,000 young people, in total silence for ten whole minutes everyday. Never could I imagine a place where, three times a day, young people from ALL over the world, sing in one language, together, regardless of their native tongue.

Taize_Candele_6k

The songs are simple ‘chants’ and are written in almost every language imaginable! For one minute you may be singing in English, the next in Czech, followed by a Spanish one. It is beautiful and prayerful in the deepest sense I know.

Taize cleaning

A group of young people assigned a cleaning task for the week!

Taize serving meal

How they manage it I don’t know, but with the aid of each young visitor, thousands are fed and watered three times a day, and then two snack times, every day of every week.An amazing feat of organisation!

taize-bells

Young people sit around after lunch.

I would recommend this place to anybody who is seeking peace; anyone who wants to find a sense of meaning; anyone who wants a break from the rat race; anyone who feels trapped in the crazy material, consumer society.

Go and experience something different!

http://www.taize.fr/en

S is for…

So….A2Z-BADGE-2016

Sooo… have you noticed how everyone seems to preface their sentences with the little word ‘so’ lately?

Er… Sooo… What’s all that about then?

R is for…

…Refugee.

Today the British government has announced that by 2020, the UKwill take in up to 3,000 more child refugees. (Although, this announcement also contains the (frustrating) caveat that those who have already reached Europe will be excluded from the new initiative).

My fear is that these children will be so deeply traumatised, so broken by the horrors they have witnessed, that they will carry their wounds in places of quiet agony, affecting their emotional, psychological and in many cases, physical, development.refugees_boy_crying_4601

Not that I don’t welcome these children with a desperate surge of maternal passion that is quite foreign to me. Not that I would want the UK to take any less or to be any less involved. It’s just that I can’t get my head round the atrocities that these children may have witnessed. I can’t conceive of how they will communicate their loss, their grief, their horror and their fear; things that feel impossible to communicate ev
en as an adult, familiar with Western patterns of interaction and with a sound knowledge of the English language.

I want to help. I want to teach, or counsel, or care for or SOMETHING. Just something.

Q is for …

There’s a more than a little irony in the immediate cacophony of internal noise that is triggered by the word ‘quiet’. I hear my dad’s ‘story voice’ reciting Merton’s When we Two Partedpeace-quiet-exit-sign-sm‘ against a background hum of ‘Silence is Golden’. A memory of a most beautiful place stirs sleepily and I feel the haze of Burgundy sunshine, lagoon like pools and the muffled sounds of people’s reflection at The Source.

Quiet. A concept known to all. Heralded as a panacea, a state of the soul, a level of consciousness, a discipline, a practice, a revealer, a healer, a sedative.

Yet. Quiet. Used as a weapon, a punishment, a cop out, an ally, an accomplice, a collusion.

Quiet. The absence of noise, yet, the stillness within sounds.

On which note, I’ll quietly leave .

O is for…

… Olivesolives

I was going to go for something more profound but really, an olive IS a pretty important thing. As I have a particular adoration for them, I did a little research.

The following fascinating facts I’m about to share will undoubtedly convince you of the Importance of Being an Olive.

Firstly, I’m willing to bet that you had no idea that the edible olive seems to have coexisted with humans since the Bronze Age. That’s around 5 to 6 thousand years. We should know each other pretty well.

Second, we’re not exactly forward in appreciating the health properties of the olive. The ancient Greeks used to smear olive oil on their bodies and hair as a matter of grooming and good health. Greasy Greeks are in good nick.

The oil of the olive (considered a fruit btw) also has a long established reputation of being sacred. Used to anoint kings in ancient times (and athletes, oddly) it was also used to burn in temples and fuelled the original Olympic torch, the ‘eternal flame’ (not the one that The Bangles referred to).

Lastly, the sanctity of the olive and its role in religious traditions is something appreciated in both Christianity and Islam, featuring 7 times in the Qur’an and countless times in The Bible. If only we could all focus on the humble olive.

I didn’t imagine I’d ever find myself writing about olives but now I’ve dipped into it, I could well go on to become the world’s leading expert, and write prolifically about this remarkable little fruit. Olives, it turns out, are a rather understated part of world history and civilisation as we know it.

A bit tongue in cheek… but really..! Who knew?!

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N is for…

Nothing.

nihilism-theres-really-nothing-to-it-quote-1
Absolutely NOTHING will pop up in my head when I try to think of an ‘N’ to write a short, imaginative and captivating post about. Why it is that I am so wholly devoid of inspiration I don’t know. It’s possible that a pervasive tiredness bears some responsibility, that and the illness I have tends to hijack the parts of my brain that might be otherwise creatively engaged.

So N is for Nihilism. For the philosophically uninitiated, this is the belief that the world and everything in it, life, values, morals, laws… are meaningless. There is no POINT to anything, nothing has any meaning.

Macbeth sums it up beautifully when he says:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more; it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”

It’s a painful thought; one which challenges the my Christian faith on a daily basis at the moment. It would be so much easier to believe that life really is just a brief candle which is eventually snuffed out to burn no more.  Perhaps owing to the extremist tendencies of Anorexia, nihilism stalks me daily, lightly running cold fingers through my hair. Death-coated whispers trickle through the aural canals, trembling tiny bones and dizzying my stance.

Turns out I have something to write about after all.

N is for Nietzsche. For Nihilism. For Nothing.

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M is for…

…Mentoring.A2Z-BADGE-2016

It’s what I’m good at, and you honestly won’t hear me use that phrase very often.

As the official leader of The Society of Burnt Out Teachers, I nowadays realise that although my passion for teaching English and English Literature will never waver, the transference of my enthusiasm doesn’t have to be within a classroom. No. In some ways, it’s easier to deliver it within a mentoring relationship. Because, as most good teachers will agree, at a certain age, its RELATIONSHIP which is the single most important factor in the delivery of successful teaching.

Mentoring allows a relationship to flourish (hopefully) and then, once established, it’s an open landscape on which, as a trusted mentor, you can help to build whatever scene and whichever structure, will most benefit and satisfy the mentee.

I’ve mentored a lot of your people, before and during my teaching career. Nothing sparks me like being able to nurture an ambition in someone. I love to help breathe hope into other people’s hearts. Nothing gives me a renewed sense of purpose like showing someone else their purpose.

Anybody else get this?