As I sit in my pew in the dark, silent church, I look to the front. The high wooden lectern stands empty, as do the carved wooden chairs ringing either side of it. Vespers service happens on the floor below, level with the congregants. The singers sit in a semi-circle of simple folding chairs behind a low table holding a shallow bowl of lit votives. (These are real wax and fire.) The minister is among them but only present to welcome, not to preach. One lay leader has brought a reading. But the business of our Vespers is song. Song alternating with silence. Song alternating with silent meditation, and song as meditation.
This church has adopted the Taize form for these once a month evening services. Taize was begun by a monastic community in France. It can be used by any denomination, I think. Simple songs are sung, with only one, two or three lines, in a medium range reachable by everyone, and they are sung over and over and over.
Tonight we sing:
De noche iremos, de noche
Que para encontrar la Fuente
Solo la sed nos alumbra
(By night, we hasten in darkness
To seek for the living water,
Only our thirst lights us onwards.)
A single voice sings it once. The rest of the ring of singers in front take it up. The instruments enter and swell. Tonight it is simple piano, a guitar, and a sturdy single drum, but they are filling my ears. We in the pews sing when we are ready. Sometimes a clear voice will rise above the others. Sometimes a round will form. Over and over the verse is sung. You no longer need the program because the words are coming to your lips easily.
There is no need for a signal to cease. No gesture, as many have their eyes closed, singing. The instruments fall away, the voices become softer, and everyone can tell when it is the final verse, and everyone quiets back to silence.
To be continued.