At last, I go to the Taizé meeting in Prague

Soon after I heard of the Taizé movement, I saw a notice about the New Year’s meeting in Prague in 1990. Unfortunately, the local contact was someone in my parish who didn’t like me (OK, I fancied her, and she didn’t fancy me back and didn’t want me to be able to go) and she didn’t put the notice anywhere where I’d see it until it was too late, and I felt very hurt, and as I was at a vulnerable point then (I had fairly deep depression at the time), it became something of a formative experience; leaving someone out of a privately-invited event is one thing, but taking on yourself to decide who can go to a public event is quite another. I went to the next couple of New Year Taizé meetings to try to make up for what I had missed, and after I recovered from the depression, I did visit Prague some time later, when a good friend of mine was there learning Czech, and that healed some of the old hurt, but something in me still hankered after going to the Taizé meeting in Prague if it ever happened there again. I did get an interesting chain of connections from that visit, too: I made a new friend on the coach from Brno to Prague; a few years later an old friend living in Lisbon invited me to the Taizé meeting there, but I was unable to go that time; then my new friend from Prague moved to Lisbon, and invited me to visit her there (which I did); a pleasant aside to the main story of going to the Taizé meeting in Prague.

So, when last year I spotted that the meeting was returning to Prague, I was delighted, and of course wanted to sign up for it, only to find that there was now an age limit, which I was by now some way over. But local people, and group leaders, of any age would be allowed to attend, and I decided to book myself a holiday in Prague at that time, and try to slip in to at least one service of the meeting, hoping I wouldn’t be noticed and ejected, so I could feel I’d made at least a token attendance at last. (No reason for the age limit was given; I guessed it was probably that people often get more confident as they get older, and might take over the discussions, not letting the young adults (who the meeting is aimed at) get a word in edgeways; or possibly to prevent the development of a group who come back every year for life. I wasn’t expecting to join in any discussion groups anyway, nor was I planning to go any other years, and, thinking about it, I became aware that my concerns are probably no longer the same as those of younger adults.) I booked travel and a room at a guesthouse, somewhat worried that I might not be able to take even a token part, but feeling that I owed trying it to that very upset 20-something who someone so pointedly left out all those years ago.

The guesthouse

The guesthouse

I found my way to the guesthouse and checked in in the evening, and the owners were very welcoming and helpful.

The square, where the bookshop is

The square, where the bookshop is

I arrived the day before the meeting started, and my first trip to the city centre included an aim of heading straight for a clothing shop to get myself a warmer hat. Going directly to the clothes shop from the metro station didn’t work out, as Central Europe’s largest bookshop was lying in wait between the two, so I came back from that morning with a Czech-English dictionary and a warm hat.

The basilica

The basilica

The notice in the Basilica

The notice in the Basilica

Wandering around that afternoon, I looked around Vyšehrad (which was in easy walking distance of the guesthouse) and saw that the Basilica (large church) had notices about the Taizé meeting, so I noted down the times, and decided to try turning up there for the first service.

When I arrived at the church the next morning, I was relieved to find they hadn’t introduced anything like festival wristbands, and I could just slip in quietly. It was wonderful to take part in something in some way equivalent to what I had been left out of so long ago. (Not of course that this was logical; it was not equivalent to that person having chosen to include me, but emotions aren’t rational, and this was a good step in closure.)

The first service of the meeting

The first service of the meeting

After the service, the parish priest started to arrange people into groups for discussions, and I thought of slipping out then, to avoid rubbing in that I wasn’t actually part of it and was officially excluded, but I’m glad I didn’t, because at the end he made arrangements for “anyone else”, and so I found I could join a discussion group after all and nobody minded, and I did in fact feel I was fully taking part in it.

Walking down to the discussion

Walking down to the discussion

The centre for the meeting was at an exhibition centre on the edge of the city, and I went for evening prayer there one evening, but didn’t return the next evening; the great crowding in the transport partly cancelled out the peace from the destination; and (perhaps showing my age, or years of annual retreat weeks in a silent monastery and attendance at a particularly quiet Quaker meeting) many people’s idea of silence before and in the service was rather laxer than mine.

I went to some of talks that were on the programme; I noticed at one that the risk of older adults being insensitive and taking over the discussion was a real one, so took extra care not to do likewise.

A shiny piano, after the concert

A shiny piano, after the concert

I also went to some events that were not part of the Taizé meeting, including a concert (with a very shiny piano).

Before the celebrations

Before the celebrations

On New Year’s Day, I looked at the preparations for celebrations in the city centre (lots of police and ambulances on standby) then went up to Letenské sady (Letná Park) for the city fireworks (it was also the location used instead of the exhibition centre, for the original Taizé meeting in Prague).

In the cathedral before the service

In the cathedral before the service

The quiet after the service

The quiet after the service

After that, I walked to the Cathedral for the service there, which was very well-attended. The atmosphere was wonderful, with a sense of expectation that encompassed both calm and excitement.

In the cathedral after the service

In the cathedral after the service

I stayed for some time after the service, joining in the quiet prayer, before walking through the Castle area down to a tram stop, and travelled back by tram and metro to Vyšehrad to join the Taizé groups I had been with for watching the later fireworks, and a celebration in the local centre for the meeting.

On the way to the final service

On the way to the final service

After the final service

After the final service

At the final service of the meeting, someone gave me a spare booklet of the songs (he had one in English, and one in his own language), and that somehow meant a lot to me; it filled the rest of my feeling of having taken part (no matter how unofficially).

After the Mass

After the Mass

The parish priest of the basilica put on an extra service after the end of the official meeting, for those who didn’t have to rush for their journeys home: a Mass, in the Rotunda (a small circular church) — and for the first time, someone offered me her chair, which stung very slightly for a moment, in the sense of making me feel older, but then I realized it was a very appropriate way to step into being seen as older (or at least, not young by some standards) and into another stage of my life: one in which being pointedly left out of having gone to a Taizé meeting in Prague no longer applied.

River, bridge, castle, cathedral

River, bridge, castle, cathedral

I had some time to explore parts of Prague after the meeting, as my flight home was the following morning.

I’m very glad I went; it provided good overall healing of one of the things that hurt me most of all in my life, and a lot more healing has come since then. This is of course all very much a matter of emotions and not rationality; it was not, for example, the same as going back in time and this time being included by the `friend’ who left me out, nor the same as her having been minded to include me; but as well as the direct healing, it did also reinforce my realization that there was only one person who didn’t want me there, and had I managed to get there the first time, no-one else would have not wanted me to be there.

The one thing that remains is that I would still like to go to a newly-freed country, but that could yet happen — I hoped there would be an echo of the celebrations of 25 years of independence, but that had all been done in November; I may have missed the Czech celebrations but I’ll still in time for the Albanian 25th anniversary of independence; and there are still two countries not freed from communism, and several nearer natural states that would like to be freed from the larger states that they have been forced into being part of, and when the first of those gets its freedom, I’ll head there as soon as I reasonably can!

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