News from Grandchamp 2005
Communion and Otherness
Encountering one another...
On the evening of 16 August, brother Roger of Taizé entered into God’s eternity, and the light which never fails shone upon him. The news of his brutal and incomprehensible death, like that of other martyrs of today, shook us deeply – we owe him so much for our vocation as sisters of Grandchamp. The witness of his life now stands out even more clearly. He tried to be there for each person, and often quoted these words of Isaac the Syrian: “All God can do is give us love.” To the very end, brother Roger was a witness to God’s immense compassion for the world, for every human being without exception, a witness even unto death of a love without a trace of power-seeking, of a life given over to the cause of Christ and the Gospel. “Jesus Christ came, not to condemn anybody, but to open up ways of communion for human beings, wrote brother Roger in his last letter, on the way to a “future of peace”.
God is communion, is relationship. Created in God’s image and likeness, human beings can only take shape as persons, the life in them can only
Today we are more than ever confronted by the otherness of others, different from us in the places they come from, their cultures, their ways of seeing the world and of expressing their faith… So how shall we live with this diversity, without letting our differences degenerate into divisions, into mutual exclusion, into domination of some by others?
A religious community does not escape this challenge. This is just where we find the call of God to live together as a parable of communion, to welcome differences instead of trying to ignore them or flatten them into an illusion of unity. So we try to move forward through a dialogue between “Communion and Otherness” – that was the theme of our last Council – seeking to be attentive both to each individual and to the body which we form. “Rabbi, why are human beings different?” someone asked a wise man. “Because they are all made in the image of God”, was his reply.
It is for us to be open to that way of seeing which discovers in the face of the other a reflection, unique to each person, of the face of God. It is for us to discern the richness of our diversity by turning towards its Source, to see it as God’s creative wisdom, andto give thanks for myself, for the other, for our communion, as brother François invited us to do during our Council retreat, to receive one another as gifts from God’s hands.
In daily life, however, this remains a real challenge. Don’t we all have our stories of being hurt? and though otherness may attract us, it also makes us afraid. The other person may be experienced as a threat, because deep within us is a fear of annihilation. The temptation rises up either to withdraw or, on the other hand, to try to dominate, so often using differences as an excuse for setting ourselves apart, for opposing ourselves to others. We have difficulty accepting the differences, they disturb us, upset us, undermine our certainties, our ways of thinking or of doing things.
We have to learn over and over again to be in dialogue, to listen to the other person as other – when our temptation is always to look for sameness – to receive what the other has to give, to respect him or her, and more, to love the person in his or her otherness. At the very heart of these difficulties we hear the call always anew to go beyond the failures to understand, the points of opposition, towards a “beyond” which enables us to give ourselves, which prepares us for true encounter.
How shall we bring about true human community? E. Leclerc wonders at the beginning of his book, Le Soleil se lève sur Assise (Sunrise in Assisi). St. Francis, who walked in the footsteps of Christ in the Beatitudes, shares his secret: humility, an infinite respect for every being in his or her uniqueness, for all life, for every form of life in the creation itself. No one, he says, can have an attitude of openness towards other people and one of domination towards nature. Brotherhood and sisterhood with all that lives: this is, for him, the obligatory path to take.
There is in God a hope, a communion which is always offered, which the Holy Spirit unfolds through a multitude of faces and gifts. Jesus opened the way for us through his whole life, through his death and resurrection. Towards scorn, hate, and violence, he responded with love. Day by day he invites us to walk in his footsteps, to consent to the suffering which is there, inevitable in our lives, to make it a way of crossing over, with him, towards Life. He goes before us into the light of Easter. In the strength and gentleness of the Holy Spirit he sends us as a sister, as a brother, to each person, to all others, in whom he awaits us.
Early in the year, we gathered for a session on an important subject:
Christian faith confronting the challenges of today’s world
Here are some reflections on these days of study, by sister Christianne, who is pursuing her task of writing and receiving groups, together with Maria de Groot, at WOUDSEND (Netherlands).
“The neoliberalism and globalisation which characterize our era have consequences for human beings. One could speak of this in caricature by saying that we live under a system of global apartheid. This situation causes traumas at every level of society. The losers in the system keep getting poorer and more dependent, while the “winners” increase their domination along with their wealth. Those in the middle class, fearful of losing what they have and falling, in their turn, into poverty, become more and more ambitious and individualistic. Those living as foreigners, as the unemployed, as refugees or people in transit, become the scapegoats of this world.
“We may feel powerless to change this situation, but nothing is stopping us from acting against these traumas. One way may be to reassert the value of a mystical vision of God and a biblical vision of humankind. The God whom we confess is committed to living in covenant with us, that is to say, in “the impossibility of indifference”. God has chosen freely to be in need of us. God is totally involved in “being with” his own creation, participating in the world’s adventures, being interested in and entering into our daily life. When Moses pressed for an answer as to who God was, he received the answer: “I shall be who I shall be”. This could be interpreted as meaning, I make myself anew at every encounter, according to the situation and the needs of my creatures. God is, from the outset, by the side of people who are in transit, God’s identity is that of a traveller! In this unique partnership,we are ourselves “beings with”, it is our relations with others which make or break us. Our mission is to participate in the messianic age. We too are called to innovate, to do new things within a total respect for our differences, never forgetting that the other is really other, and that this is good!
“In the climate engendered by neoliberalism, human beings find themselves ultimately turned into things. From the top of the pyramid of power downward, the dominant trends are being imposed upon them, closing them up tighter in a materialistic world, of which some characteristics are individualism, utilitarianism, rationalism, bureaucracy, technocracy . . . not to forget speed, violence, contempt for other persons and the fear which is spreading everywhere. Once we face this fact, what we should do is to set up an alternative, an opposite pole for dialogue, a creative tension. What is important above all is to put humankind back in its proper place, which is that of looking after the milieu in which we live, developing it certainly, but in the sense of making it more human; making it a world in which all can live, without exception, which favors justice and peace; a world in which problems are seen in their plural and complex dimensions, in other words, a spiritual dimension.
“From this perspective, we can see Christians as people who meditate, who are militant and who resist. They are people who pause before taking action, who can take time to get to know and understand better their own needs and desires as well as those of others. They are people who are careful with the power they have over others, who know how to make room for others, who are not afraid to combine efficiency with creativity. They are people who stand up, who stand face to face both with God and with other persons, who try to maintain symmetrical relations, respectful of equality between woman and man, between races and religions. Such persons will act in measured, respectful ways at work, within their families and towards nature. They will not be ashamed to protect themselves from fear, and will try to bring confidence where there is mistrust, sharing where there is individualism, inclusion where exclusion is rampant, cooperation instead of competition. In the face of ever greater poverty, they will develop a spirit of community and networks of solidarity. Thus a spirit of resistance will bring together people who are ready for change, for a newness of life. They will resolutely take an alternative path, and they will restore the spirit of wonder, of joy, of simplicity, of dialogue, and of compassion. Through thinking, that is, in making the effort to understand the why and the how of the times in which we are living, they will discover that thinking and loving go together.
“As we go forward in a continuous process of comprehension and of analysis, we find ourselves in a better place in this world, and once again we feel at home in it, we are able to wonder at it, to rejoice in it, and even feel the need to make it more beautiful. It is very important to be in sympathy with this world, because it is the only thing we all have in common – to love this world and to love to share it with others.”
To share with you something of our session in February, here are some excerpts from what became a study by Michel-Maxime Egger, which appeared in the first issue of a new journal on anthropology and spirituality,La Chair et le Souffle (Flesh and Breath).
Redirecting our desires, to change the world
Humankind is at a crossroads. A profound and sustained response to the major issues of our age, as symbolised by commercial globalisation, requires the awakening of our conscience, a re-casting of our concepts of the human being and the cosmos, and an articulation between the transformation of oneself and the transformation of the world. One of the points of articulation between these two transformations is that of desire. Resistance to the reign of money can only take place through the reorientation of desire.
For the Church Fathers… the human creature is fundamentally a creature of desire. Desire, along with freedom and the power to create, is an essential component of the image of God in humankind… This means that we have, deep within us, a power of desire which is the very source of our aspiration to transcendance and the divine, which makes us reach out for what is beyond us, the beautiful, the good, the harmonious, a world of greater justice and solidarity. The Church Fathers go so far as to affirm that behind all our desires, even those which are apparently the most worldly, is actually concealed a desire for God, so obscure that we are often unaware of it, the unconscious reflection of God’s desire for us, which came first. This is why our desires are, by nature, infinite and insatiable. To expect to satisfy them with material goods or with mental pleasures – which are bound to be limited and relative – is not only an illusion, but also causes their fundamental energy to become disoriented, transforming them into “passions”, to which we are at risk of becoming captive…
To understand all this, the contemporary masters of the market did not need to study the Church Fathers. If, in the terminology of Maurice Bellet, the market is the holy ground of the “écoregne” (reign of economics) and money is its “Open Sesame”, its driving force – Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand” – is none other than proliferating “desire-envy” (craving of desire). Everything depends on this, the craving to acquire and to possess… This is where the fascination with money gets its power, as “the effective sign of potential enjoyment (in the form of satisfaction or ascendancy); it represents and signifies desire beyond all bounds, the infinite means to infinite desire. It is the enjoyment of the power to buy anything, even human beings, even by honorable means through generosity and efficacity.”
Desire as craving is thus desire degraded into mindless passion, its primal energy degenerated, thrown off course, away from its original purpose, by advertising. Advertising is truly the structural dynamo of our growth economies, having no other purpose than to turn our desires into cravings – with the compulsive brutality that goes with them – “I want that, right now” – so that we mistake them for needs, packaged in conformity with the logic of the market… Advertising is a fabulous machine for stimulating and maintaining desires/cravings, as well as permanent dissatisfaction/frustration, the one feeding on the other. It also creates an extraordinary confusion between need and desire…
The United States and the countries of the European Union spend more than 500 billion dollars a year on advertising. This is ten times as much as we would need to satify the essential needs of all humankind (education, food, access to water… ), according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This figure says a great deal. It illustrates the profound intuition of Gandhi’s statement, “This planet has enough resources to meet the needs of all its people, but not enough to satisfy the greed and possessiveness of every person.” In other words, the poverty in the world is not really due to a problem of scarcity or lack of means – financial or material – but to an artificial scarcity in relation with a poor distribution of resources. And this does not depend only on political choices and strategies at the international or national level, but also on the consumer choices and lifestyles of individuals – thus, ultimately, on how we deal with our desires.
What happens to the power of our desires in a society ruled by economics? What do we do about it? How do we steer it? We are not fated to have our desires deviated into cravings and degraded into blind passions, because as human beings we have a freedom and a will, especially if we are open to the workings of grace, which allows us to make good use of this power of desire and to direct it rightly. In this way, an essential part of the resistance against the domination of economics will come into play, of resistance to being steamrollered by advertising and money…
Let us be clear that we are not talking about suppressing, repressing or doing away with our desires, but rather transfiguring them or, even better, reunifying them, freeing them from everything that holds them in bondage – and ourselves with them – and keeps us separate from one another. The goal is to reconnect our desires with their original source, to redirect them towards their profound destiny, where they can blossom according to God’s plan. The real problem is not that we want too much, but that we want the wrong things, that we are deceived into wanting the moon when what we really want is the sense of fulfillment.
As the days go by…
Les Sœurs de Grandchamp
It was with sorrowful hearts over all the suffering caused by the tsunami, but also moved by the huge wave of solidarity which it set off, that we held the meeting in February of our community. We had the joy of listening to Ulrich Duchrow, who shared with us his reflection on globalisation based on Bible texts, especially Ezekiel 2:1: “O mortal, stand up on your feet”, and the first chapters of Genesis; to Maxime Egger, who spoke of the articulation between “transforming oneself and transforming the world”, and of the need to re-orient our desires in this perspective; and to sister Siong, who gave a very personal testimony on “the challenges of the multicultural and the multi-religious as we face globalisation”.
We all came back for our Council in the summer, an intense time of retreat, of sharing, and… of a time of rejoicing on the occasion of sister Hannah’s Profession and the fiftieth anniversary of sisters Renée’s and Albertine‘s Profession, the first of our sisters to be able to celebrate this grand jubilee! Again on August 6 there was a time of celebration and friendship, in the light of the Transfiguration, marking 50 years of our presence in Algeria, with friends of many years – Nelly Forget, Jacqueline and Ali Tadjer, Eliette Rodriguez, Miassa, Lallia… Sisters Renée and Anne- eneviève went back to ALGIERS in September. They returned to continue the daily life of this very simple presence: of welcoming, of listening, of all sorts of sharing,, of discovering the mystery of the other with all those who surround them in this land of Islam. Sister Pierrette was able to perceive this reality when she stayed with them last spring.
Receiving the other person in all his or her mystery… the sisters at SAINT ELIZABETH experience this with particular intensity. After a year back at Grandchamp, sister Maatje returned there with sister Claire- Irène, and sister Françoise for a few months. They are obviously deeply affected by events in the life of Israel/Palestine. In the midst of such uncertainty, insecurity and violence, to remain in intercession for both peoples demands a poor and defenseless heart. The sisters were greatly shaken, and we with them, by the death of Father Jean-Baptiste of Abu Gosh, the auxiliary bishop who had been responsible for the Hebrew-speaking religious communities. He leaves a great gap in his own community, in the Church of Jerusalem and in our hearts. He was a brother and a guide for the journey of several among us.
There were some changes at SONNENHOF this year! Sister Thérèse returned to Grandchamp, passing on the responsibility for the house to sister Dorothea, assisted by sister Hiltje who had just returned from St. Elizabeth! Sister Ruth also moved back to Grandchamp, while sister Miriam joined the sisters at Sonnenhof in June. So there were plenty of moves, but at a deeper level there is continuity; the vocation there remains wellrooted and has a new impetus thanks to our Jubilee celebrations last year.
At CHALENCON (France) we have now turned the page. In late April, in the presence of delegates from the French Reformed Church and of many friends and neighbours who came to express their gratitude, their friendship and also their regret, that with hearts full of both gratitude and sadness we said farewell to this corner of the Ardeche which will remain in our affection. We still also have strong ties there with Rompon. Sister Pierrette was happy to be able to go and hear Jeanne Bovet open her final concert of the season, the 40th anniversary for this abode of music and spirituality. But the leavetaking from the Home de Grâce is costly for us, as is the impossi-bility for the moment of responding to other requests for new plantings which we receive these days. Certainly this situation invites us to consent to a reality, but most of all it invites us to be open to the creativity of the Spirit, so that we may find new ways of sharing.
Thus we were able to respond more promptly to an invitation from Lutheran bishop Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter to lead a week’s retreat for some twenty pastors from the North Elbian Church, at a church centre on the lake shore at Ratzeburg, Germany. Sister Christel provided the leadership for this retreat, joined by sister Minke and then sister Pierrette during the week to share in this very rich experience which is planned anew for next year!
Among the numerous missions and meetings during this year were the participation of sister Dorothea in the international and interconfessional Congress of Religious hosted by the deaconesses of Riehen; of sister Maatje in the Church and Peace meeting at Selbitz; of sister Pascal in the meeting of the Department of Community Reasearch at Pomeyrol; of sister Françoise in the Interreligious Monastic Dialogue, as well as the newly created interreligious platform at Neuchâtel; and sister Hélène’s renewed experience of offering an ecumenical presence of welcome and prayer for a week in the neighbourhood of the European Parliament in Brussels, as well as talks and retreats given by sister Minke in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
It is always a joy to experience the reality of communion, and of the diversity of our gifts, with so many communities near and far. A number of Little Sisters of Jesus, representing quite a few of their “fraternities”, spent longer or shorter periods with us, including several weeks for Little sister Bushra from Beit Jala (Palestine), for little sister Virginia from Algeria, and for little sister Juana from Spain. The latter is hoping that a sister from Grandchamp might come to Spain sometime, to share in their life of prayer and of labour in the asparagus fields… Our need of one another is also a reality which we are discovering more and more with contemplative communities in French-speaking Switzerland. This year we spent a day together with sisters in charge of liturgy and singing, another for sisters who run hostels, and a session on the lectio Divina at the Dominican convent at Estavayer, not to forget the fine 750th anniversary celebration of the Abbey of Maigrauge, the day after the election of Benedict XVI! This last event was the topic of conversation soon afterwards with the episcopal vicar of Neuchâtel, Jean- Jacques Martin, a time of special sharing in an atmosphere of confidence and openness.
Our journey of communion with the sisters of Mamré in Madagascar continues. Sister Josephine was with us until Easter, and in the summer we had the joy of a visit from their prioress, sister Angéline. Pastor Jean- ouis L’Eplattenier returned to Mamré in the spring, and sister Siong had the privilege of accompanying three sisters in their retreat to prepare for their consecration, and of sharing this great day of celebration with the whole community in November.
Our welcoming of guests keeps us in action, and often opens unexpected paths of communion for us. We always marvel anew at the ways others find their paths to God, and the ways in which God comes to meet them. There have been many new faces over the months, and on the other hand great faithfulness and friendship on the part of persons and groups who have been coming here for many years. We also rediscovered an old tradition in offering two retreats for children, and their active participation and liveliness did us a great deal of good!
We can only givethanks for our spiritual family, which is enriched by the women Servants of Unity (SU), the Families for Unity (FU), and the members of the Third Order of Unity (TOU) with whom we seek to live in a relationship of reciprocity in our diverse vocations. The TOU family was enlarged by five new commitments this year, and is growing and being enriched through our brothers in Benin. In the spring of 2006 we will observe TOU’s 50th anniversary with a day of thanksgiving.
It also extends even further, to all those friends of our community who are journeying in communion with us. We received very tangible signs of this at the time of Brother Roger’s death – such an important transition for the Taizé community and for its new prior, brother Aloïs – and we were deeply touched. Many of you also surrounded us with your support for sister Judith in her long wait, then her delicate liver transplant operation in early September. All went well, and we remain in profound thanksgiving with her, and in immense gratitude to you for your prayers.
By the power of a communion which extends beyond what is visible to us, we gratefully remember all that we received from Tomoko Faerber Evdokimov, from Pastor Maurice Ray, from Professor Jean- Louis Leuba, from sister Hetty de Beaufort (SU), from Andrée de Vries and Renée Sturm (TOU)… and from many others who have gone to dwell in our Father’s house.
Sister Anne-Emmanuelle is getting ready to leave for the World Council of Churches’ Ninth Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on the theme “God, in your grace, transform the world”. May we be enabled to receive the God who comes to dwell in us, and let ourselves be transformed by the power of God’s love and peace. We wish you all a blessed Christmas and a new year filled with life received and shared!
The Sisters of Grandchamp
Community of Grandchamp