Our Monday evening Community Nights are set aside times when BSVM staff joins the Ministry Volunteers to eat dinner, pray together, and reflect on some aspect of shared life together. Volunteers lead the communal prayer times on a rotating schedule throughout the year. The shape of these prayer times can vary as widely as the personality of each Volunteer. We use the outline and shared readings from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals as a starting point, and the remainder of the reflection emerges from the creativity and heart of each leader.
Below, you’ll read a reflection written in the spirit of that communal prayer time from one of our current volunteers. Caroline weaves in readings she was thinking about during Lent, a new prayer practice she learned during our retreat in March, and offers some reflection questions for further consideration at the end: “Where in your life do you desire to begin again?”
“From One Beginning to Another Beginning”
By Caroline Kirk, BSVM 2021-2022
A graduate of University of Virginia
I find myself craving new beginnings. Not the kind where you have to move all over again, build friendships from ground zero, or grapple with deep loneliness, but the personal kind of new beginnings that feel fresh–like a new day, a second chance, or a change in season. I think this is why I was joyfully anticipating Lent this year. Choosing to view these 40 days as a reset excites and encourages me. Not only to take on fasting, almsgiving, or prayer because it is a Lenten practice, but also to pour earnestly into my own spirituality in a reenergized way.
Guided by an article on the Taizé community by Stephanie Saldaña from America Magazine, I am noticing that “whoever is on a journey toward God goes from one beginning to another beginning.” I have been surprised by the nature of my current new beginning, the way it feels fresh amidst moments of struggle and weakness. Journey with me as I explore this new type of new beginning.
Last month, our Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry community was introduced to Taizé prayer at our contemplative retreat. This is a type of group prayer in which we are contemplatives side by side, quiet and wondering individually, together. The music is reflective, bringing us together in moments of a song with chanted, repeated lines such as, “You love us, source of life,” over and over again. Taizé is an ecumenical monastic community in France that tens of thousands of pilgrims travel to each year. My fellow volunteers and I were united with thousands of pilgrims across the world as we prayed together for a night in Maryland. Right after retreat, I found the article about the way Taizé begins anew, over and over, in a way that addresses a hard truth: that things, people, and communities change. After our introduction to their prayer practice, I felt compelled to interrogate this idea of new beginnings.
Saldaña writes that Taizé was first founded by Brother Roger Schütz in “the belief that renewal is not meant to be embarked upon only once in our lifetimes. It is a dynamic, a way of being Christian.” When I think of the word renewal, it has a connotation of total and complete change in which something or some piece of life is “fixed,” made fresh, like a nap renews my tiredness or a meal refreshes my body. This Lent, however, I have been hoping for renewal in the way I listen–to God, myself, and my surroundings. The joy of renewal is coming to fruition in the new beginnings that are available every second of the day.
Beginning again is actually a way of life in itself. In trying to relish this gift, I am practicing the art of seeing opportunities and beginnings throughout my day. From my first cup of coffee, to the third class I substitute teach, to trying a new recipe for dinner with my community, the gift of beginning again is available. Each moment builds on the previous. The Lenten devotional I am reading, A Season for the Spirit by Martin L. Smith, is following this movement as well. Its overarching message speaks to the multitude of ways the Holy Spirit takes root inside of us–Monday may talk about the way the Spirit works through our painful childhoods, while Tuesday may highlight the relationship we have with our own body in communion with all of creation. These disparate examples, just like the diverse ecumenical group at Taizé, illuminate God’s love in a masterful way. When I take each of the small moments in a day and see them as beginnings, as different gifts, God’s love for me is illuminated as well.
I am becoming aware, however, that seeing everything as new, as gift, can bolster a façade of perfection. I get frustrated and prideful when I think that I have control because I am being intentional. This Lent, I have been praying for my family, praying through all the things that I cannot make better on my own. What the Taizé community teaches is that we have “the choice to start again, offering what little we have,” within all of our brokenness. So when I cannot control any of it, I have to lean in harder to God’s presence and love. I have to start again rather than slip away. When I face harder emotions in myself, in response to my community, or in response to the injustice I see each day and these come up in prayer, I have a tendency to pray them away or focus most on gratitude. I can even fear this more difficult moment of prayer.
But, as Brother Alois from Taizé said, “What looks like fragility might actually be courage.” While new beginnings might imply strength and constant gratitude, they can also be opportunities to face the truth of our fragility–which is certainly a Lenten concept. It is in this different type of beginning again, within our fragility, that we practice faith to the fullest. When I embark on the journey toward God, trying to turn to God when things do not feel right, I am practicing trust as I travel from one beginning to the next. This is the type of spirituality I desire to grow in most. One where hanging tough, leaning in, and journeying on is not always perfect, but it is always beginning again.
From Saldaña, about Brother Alois: “His words–reflecting the tripartite movement of listening to oneself, to others and to God–harkens back to Brother Roger’s original vision, when he founded Taizé in the belief that renewal is not meant to be embarked upon only once in our lifetimes. It is a dynamic, a way of being Christian, of remaining attentive to the signs of the times.”
Where in your life do you desire to begin again?
“Whoever is on a journey towards God goes from one beginning to another beginning.” (Brother Roger)
Where in your days could you see an opportunity to begin again? Would this framing feel lifegiving for you?