News Release Library
July 17, 2013

Undivided in Prayer

In a world where religion can be a polarizing force, a French meditation style helps faculty and students find peace.

Matthew Aragones ’13 sits cross-legged on the floor facing the altar, his head bent in prayer. The only light in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel comes from the glow of candles. The only sound, the occasional creak of a pew.

For Aragones, this period of silence observed in the twice-monthlyTaizé (pronounced tah-ZAY) service brings both peace and discomfort.The Religious and Theological Studies major is grappling with a spiritual dilemma as he attempts to honor his Roman Catholic background while pursuing a call to ministry in the Protestant denominations.

There may be no better space for Aragones to work out this tension. Taizé, an ecumenical service that blends prayer, song and silence, is rooted in Christian reconciliation and calls on believers to find unity
through prayer and quiet reflection.

“There’s something about the candles, the repetitive phrases of the music — it centers me,” Aragones says. “It makes me focus on the struggle that I need to confront and overcome.” The silence, he says, “creates the space for the presence of God.”

That’s exactly what the Rev. Jennifer Veninga, ecumenical minister for Campus Ministry, was hoping for when she launched the Taizé service last fall. A Protestant minister who teaches Religious Studies at St. Edward’s, she sought a service that would be inclusive while also offering students a unique worship experience. Veninga discovered Taizé in graduate school.

The services are modeled on the contemplative prayers practiced by the Taizé brotherhood, an ecumenical monastic community that formed in France during World War II and offered peace and refuge in the midst of turmoil.

Taizé services provide a refuge in today’s world, too.

“We are so stressed and so busy. I think we long for moments of quietude,” Veninga says.

The darkness, silence and simple, almost chant-like songs allow students to reflect and recenter spiritually, she says. But Veninga knows this can be a challenge for students used to multi-tasking and constant stimulation, so she introduced silent meditation gradually, starting with three minutes and working up to 10.

“Today, we have no silence,” says Laulie Eckeberger ’14, a Religious and Theological Studies major who at first found the quiet uncomfortable. Now, she says, she leaves the service feeling “relaxed, like I left something in there that I was carrying before.”

The service usually draws 10 students. But on the last Monday in January, which marked the first Taizé service of the spring semester and the end of Christian Unity Week, more than 20 students and faculty members attended. Their voices filled the dark chapel as they sang the simple melody repeatedly: “Jesus, remember me when I come into your kingdom.” After several rounds, the music faded, and the sanctuary grew quiet again. People left in silence.

For Aragones, the service is a testament to the possibility of reconciling his Catholic and Protestant identities. “It is wonderful to see a group of Christians come together and transcend denomination,” he says. “The greatest thing that ties them together is that they’re all part of the body of Christ.”

— by Eileen Flynn