BY HANNAH COLEY | April 24, 2018
I recently went on a mid-year Jesuit Volunteer community retreat that was guided by we volunteers of the Belize City and Punta Gorda JV communities. Rooted in the theme of self-care, this retreat felt particularly timely as I was preparing for Lent this year, a season that not only emboldens greater consistency in my personal and communal spiritual lives, but also a deeper look at how intentionality throughout my day gives care to my relationship with God.
A community mate of mine made the commitment to explore new prayer practices that empower her as a female within the Catholic Church. In response to her Lenten commitment, I began to reflect upon my own past prayer practices that have been particularly nourishing. Year after year I find myself reinventing my personal prayer wheel at the beginning of the Lenten Season. Instead, I chose to focus on the platforms of encountering God that I have utilized in the past and from which, perhaps, I had ‘moved on’ from throughout different periods of transition in my life. I gave myself time to recognize the spiritual needs that have remained constant not only in transition, but also in the day to day experiences as a Jesuit Volunteer, in communities new and old, and in the ways I experience or encounter joy, challenge, and grief in my communities both here in Belize and in the States.
What has consistently brought about my closeness with God?
What has given me access to experience God most authentically, given God direct access to me?
I look back to my spiritual journey at university and to my spiritual journey as a Jesuit Volunteer, particularly to the individual moments of spiritual transformation with God because of community presence and support. In this reflection, Taize prayer immediately surfaces. It is a meditative style of song, reflection, and worship, a prayer practice that has been a significant part of my spiritual life for nearly six years now. Taize prayer consistently brings me peaceful order amidst despair, the song and laughter needed from community after a long day or month’s work, or the five minutes’ silence that is needed when the daily noise seems to drown out opportune moments of calm. However, the aspect of Taize prayer that most fascinates me is its roots in the monastic tradition of community and inclusion, as well as the consistencies that are found in its intentional way of life and prayer, consistencies that I, myself, felt particularly connected to during this Lenten season as a JV.
The Communaute de Taize is an ecumenical monastic community in the French village of Taize just outside of Lyons. It was founded by Brother Roger Schutz, a Reformed Protestant, at the ‘close’ of WWII and is nestled in the hills and farmland outside of what used to be the vast Cluny Monastery. Needing a place to encourage peace and healing after the war, Brother Roger invited youth from all of Europe to unite in prayer, grief, healing, and most importantly to share in the brothers’ communal practice of liturgical song and work. Reconciliation and inclusivity were the very foundations upon which the community itself was built by Br. Roger, and the pillar of community is what draws Taize’s Brothers, Sisters, residents and frequent pilgrims to prayer three times a day. I have made the pilgrimage to Taize on three separate occasions and in three drastically different spiritual periods of my life in which my spiritual attentiveness and maturity have greatly varied. Since my second year at university, my relationship with Taize prayer has also changed and deepened over time, as has my relationship with God. I have come to know Taize as I know God. In moments Taize is a nurturing mother and in others Taize is a sister, a relationship in which time and space cannot seem to shallow its depth.
Like ancient monasteries, the community of Taize is a place where people pilgrimage for community, silence, intentional work, asylum and social services, such as housing and food distribution, and most importantly, a freedom to deepen in relationship with God and themselves.
How can I be a woman of inclusion and of little barriers?
Similar to that of Taize and monastic tradition, JV communities have their own particular tradition in Belize, one that has been deepening and evolving for nearly thirty years now.
How can we each see God in the ways that our communities are preparing and transforming us as individuals?
How can we be malleable and open to the needs of both our communities and our relationships of God and ourselves?
Like other self-care practices, such as yoga, meditation, or even morning/evening rituals, connection to and finding depth in prayer, such as Taize, requires consistency and practice. However, what Taize necessitates that most other self-care practices do not is community. It emphasizes the need for trust in the community around us, trust that our members will carry us by way of voice or accompaniment when we need it most, and trust in our own voices and in the experiences of our community members. While consistency of prayer is helpful for the Brothers and Sisters of Taize to deepen in relationship with God, it is in the community’s foundation and emphasis on inclusion that prayer is fully activated. It is in community that individual relationship with God can be used and most fully realized.
Hannah Coley grew up in Chicago, Illinois but calls the small northeast Ohio town of Cuyahoga Falls home. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago in May of 2016, majoring in Philosophy with a concentration in Social Justice and minoring in Peace Studies and Dance. She served for two years as a Jesuit Volunteer in Punta Gorda, Belize as the Youth Ministry Coordinator for St. Peter Claver Jesuit Parish from 2016-2018.