There is something cold and wet falling from the sky. And the sky is a swirling mist of grey and black. Oxford again. And I’m finding it hard to gather the momentum to type, as a to-do list of things I really don’t want to do is encircling my mind. I don’t really want to do anything. I’m too restless to sleep.
It was 38° in Burgundy yesterday. And earlier this week. All of last week. The sun shone every day at Taizé; the churches offering shelter from the sweltering heat.
It was the Church of Reconciliation where I spent most of my time. I entered, as last year , and the year before, into the rhythm of community life, of Bible introductions, this time led by philosopher, Frère Emile, small group meetings, thrice daily prayer, chores, rinse, repeat. This year one challenge, amidst my physical frailty and the intense stressage of recent weeks, was to take care of myself, in body. And, at least partly owing to not wanting to faint again, or in church, as others were doing, nor to draw attention in that way, I did. While others consider the Taizé diet insufficient, I found it filling and manageable and I ate and I drank, and remembered to take my medication as instructed, in spite of a different routine.
The result was that I slept nine-hour nights, and was in church in stillness at least half an hour before the bells sounded for matins; that I engaged in the group work, and in optional activities; spent time on my own; conversed in French and in English, and without feeling tired. Oxford felt like a lifetime away.
Or it did, until Friday evening. Each Friday evening at Taizé works like a Good Friday service, which includes ‘Prayers around the Cross’. And I expected this service to be, for me, like others, where (I suspected) a mix of distance, sleep, food and exercise was keeping me emotionally steady and in the present moment. So, after the brothers’ act of devotion, I queued with tens of other to lay down myself, my burdens, on the Cross. Bodily prayer seemed fitting somehow.
Fitting or not, it was real, liminal space. And the relief of doing that, of naming the things weighing me down, that (in the words of Fr. Roger) ‘God will take what [I] carry that [my] shoulders cannot lift’, I found myself crying for the first time that week.
And now I am back in Ox., I am worrying again; trying to take the burdens back, and repeatedly remembering where I have left them.
Do not worry, give yourself
The chant that sticks out for me, that struck me earlier in the week, and each day that it was sung, was Retourne mon âme:
Retourne, mon âme, à ton repos
car le Seigneur t’a fait du bien.
Il a gardé mon âme de la mort.
Il essuiera pour toujours les larmes de nos yeux.
Aside from other rubbish, God sees the struggle that I have to live through each day with mental illness; fighting anger at injustice, sadness at rejection, fear of being abandoned; utter abandonment and betrayal from someone I trusted; ensuing exile. He doesn’t just see; He feels it too: God is compassion, and He wants to share my burdens; I just have to give them to Him – and give myself.
Something else Fr. Emile told us: that when Fr. Roger felt overwhelmed or lacking in faith, he would go to the church to sing. And he would sing for as long as it took, until he felt he could trust God’s truth again. Even if singing was far from what he felt like doing.
This probably isn’t a bad example for me to follow. I need to get through my to-do list.