On Thursday afternoon Elisabeth and I traded community life at Taizé for time as tourists. We hopped on a bus (which we almost missed, but just barely caught by running for the last half mile) with a woman from France who is in our small group and rode for about 15 minutes or 10 kilometers to the nearby village Cluny.
Cluny was the center of a Benedictine monastery from as early as the year 910 until as late as 1790. In its heyday it rivaled Rome as a center of power within the Christian church and at various periods was as successful as any city in Europe. While much of it is in rubbles now, the sanctuary at one time was in the running to be one of the largest spiritual spaces in the world.
There is an interesting lesson to be learned by Cluny - both for the brothers at Taizé as well as any who are interested to learn. From the earliest groups of so-called "Desert Fathers" and "Desert Mothers," monastic orders have always been a reaction or a response or a return to simplicity and prayer. Often the vows that are taken in a particular monastic order are taken (such as chastity or poverty) are in direct contrast to the cultural values, which can be seen in the so-called "real world" which the monastery seeks to flee from or at least be set apart from.
While it's a bit of an oversimplification, Cluny began in this same way with a vision of simplicity and poverty as a response to the corruptions of power and money in the world around it. However, over time (generations of monks) it became one of the most powerful and richest centers in all of Europe, perhaps even the world. As such, the monastery at Cluny often reinvented itself - returning to simplicity and prayer and poverty. Only to see itself (often through the hard work of those who took these vows) become the center of power and riches (and certainly at times, corruption) it sought to escape.
It is a challenge for all of us - not to become the thing we seek to flee. Not to become the one we hate. Not to become the place we try to escape.
It is an interesting lesson that I carry as I return to my final few days of community life at Taizé.