In early times, the daily Chapter was a traditional feature of the monastic timetable. The monks left church at the end of the office of Prime and processed to a room near by, where a portion, or "chapter," of the Rule was read and the abbot commented upon it. It was also the natural occasion for announcements to be made affecting the life of the community and for a blessing to be given upon the day's work. Soon the room itself came to be called "the Chapter Room, or House" or simply "Chapter." Even today some form of this practice exists in many monasteries, including our own. Each month this page will feature a chapter talk given to the Community, as well as news and features. We hope you will visit us regularly.

 
 
 

Walking with God                          

 

He has showed you, o man, what  is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”  Cf Micah 6:8. The truth is embodied in justice, kindness and humility, not in external rituals.  That does not mean that these qualities have no outward expression.  On the contrary, they are expressed in just and kindly actions, in humble attitudes and deeds.  Nothing showy or pretentious, they manifest themselves in hidden acts proceeding from a pure heart.

            To put our theme briefly in a scriptural context.  Movement such as walking, expresses life.  Idols cannot walk.  They have hands but do not feel; feet, but they do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat” (Ps 115:7).  In contrast, God walks in the garden in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8).  He walks in the spaciousness of the human heart which opens wide to him.  In this text from Genesis, he seeks man’s companionship in a close way, when the fever of the day is over and man is free to turn his full gaze towards him.  This need not be a literal image for us, since we may, after Pentecost, turn to him at any time of day or night to draw on his life and peace.

            In the Old Testament there are two diametrically opposed ways of walking, that is, of living.  The just man walks in the way of righteousness (Prov 8:20).  The king reminds God in 2Kings 20:3: how I have walked before thee in faithfulness and with a whole heart and have done what is good in thy sight.  The friend of God walks with him as Enoch did (Gen 5:24):  And he walked with God and was seen no more: because God took him.

            The opposite way is a walking in darkness.  Isaiah says graphically that the unjust grope in the gloom, like those who have no eyes (Is 59:10).  In these passages how one walks indicates the sphere in which man may choose to live.

            Turning to the New Testament, St Paul, also, ascribes movement to God.  Echoing Leviticus he writes: I will live in them and move among them and I will be their God and they shall be my people (2Cor 6:14).  Since he lives in us as in a temple, we have ready access to his redeeming presence.  Paul also uses the term for the walk of life.  Believers are to walk worthily of God and of their calling ( cf Eph 4:1).  It means a changed life after baptism (Col 3:7).  No longer may we walk according to the flesh but in the Spirit, in love and in newness of life (Rom 6:4).  St John, for his part, uses the term for the stance of faith, for example, when he quotes Christ as saying: I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life (Jn 8:12).

            The Fathers of the Church follow the scriptural line closely.  Here is Theodore of Mopsuestia on Micah’s text: Forget about burnt offerings, countless sacrifices and oblations of first-born, he is saying.  If you are concerned to appease the divinity, practise what God ordered you in the beginning through Moses.  What, in fact, is that?  To deliver fair judgement and decision in all cases where you have to choose better from worse, to continue giving evidence of all possible love and fellow feeling to your neighbour and be ready to put into practice what is pleasing to God in every way.  According to Theodore, in short, to walk with God is to practise the double commandment of love.

            St Augustine resumes the requirements of God as follows: You ask what you should offer: offer yourself.  For what else does the Lord seek of you but you?  Because of all earthly creatures, he has made nothing better than you, he seeks yourself from yourself.[i]

            Here we have the language of God’s call and man’s response in self-donation.  In the biblical notion of walking, always implicit in St Benedict’s conception of the monastic life as a journey towards eternal life, we have a high ideal and a practical programme for our vocation.  To this we now turn.

            Viewed naturally, when we set out to walk, we start from one place and proceed to another.  The walk is planned; there is a beginning and an end.  Here is a symbol for all Christian life, which is a trajectory from baptism to eternal life, Christ Himself being the beginning, the end and the way.  The consecrated person is called to follow a distinct path towards eternal life.  It, too, has its beginning, in the original call to follow Christ; it is clearly mapped out, with definite stages; and its goal is ever present, while increasing in clarity as we progress.

            If Christ is the Way, He is also the Companion on the way.  We walk with Him, in great security and reverent familiarity, singing the praises of God as we go.  We shall return to this.  First, we sit down to make our preparations and consult our heart, our motivation for what we know will be an arduous, if delightful journey.  There are certain qualifications which the prophet Micah sets before us.  We cannot judge for ourselves if we have them, only if we want to have them: if we desire to do right, to love kindness, to become humble, thus to be balanced and fair in one’s judgements, speech and dealings, to be unobtrusively helpful, one’s eyes on the hand of the Master Oculi mei semper ad Dominum (Ps 24).

            We also need stamina and discipline for the enterprise.  Long years of practising the discipline of the road, under a Rule and a Superior, both require and foster a spirit of perseverance.  The Rule, which at first may seem prohibitive, becomes a supple instrument of perfection, or, to change the metaphor, a trustworthy compass or map.  The Holy Rule is itself a way, interpreting the wishes of our Companion, if we are sensitive to its spirit and prescriptions.  Walking thus we gain a sureness of step.  We look where we walk, with precision, placing our feet carefully but lightly.  No need to be ponderous.  Sometimes, too, we need to tread underfoot scorpions and dragons, symbols for evil thought or temptations.  Firmness, then, is another requirement, and a refusal to have any truck with compromise.

            Even more important than the Rule as our map of life is the Bible, our food along the way.  For the moment, we note, principally, that our needs for the journey are very simple.

            On this way writes Origen one must take nothing along, for this road has itself the power to supply for all the needs of the journey[ii].  Closer to our century, von Hügel, writing to his niece, suggests that we take with us on a journey some few but entirely appropriate things … simple, strong and selected throughout, in view of stormy weather.  Anything else is clutter, distraction, even a harmful nuisance.

            Here we are, then, launched on the way with all we need, having taken foresight for bad conditions.  Re-enter the Companion on the way.  We go along with Him, allowing Him to set the pace.  It may seem hard, impossible at times, to keep up, yet in Deuteronomy (1:36) we read: In the wilderness (as thou hast seen) the Lord thy God hath carried thee, as a man is wont to carry his little son, all the way that you have come, until you came to this place.  Our Companion may carry us so discreetly that we are barely conscious of it, only aware afterwards of His subtle assistance.  He not only inspires us in the way we should walk and bears us up in it but also forestalls dangers.  As the Collect for the 28th Sunday of the Year has it: May your grace, O Lord, we pray at all times, go before us and follow after.  Tua nos, quæsumus, Domine, gratia semper et præveniat et sequatur.

 

            At other times the pace may seem slow.  Nothing much happens.  It is important then to resist tedium, to keep turning towards Him, questioningly perhaps but always with deep trust.  We do not go ahead of our Companion in impatience, when He seems to delay; do not look for more exciting prospects, other paths, other companions.  It would be folly to try to compensate for life with this perfect Fellow-traveller.

 

            Sometimes, however, He may seem to leave us to walk alone on stretches of the road.  He is not absent.  Perhaps He looks on to see how well we have learned to walk, how prepared we are to experience the fatigues as well as the joys of the journey.  He wants us to hone our walking skills.

 

            Again He may come in disguise.  Having taken on the weakness of the flesh in the Incarnation, He identifies Himself with each person on the road.  Therefore, we are called, in our turn, to help our Companion in the person of the neighbour in any need.  We become partners in a courteous give and take.  He allows us to give to Him through the instrumentality of the needy.  He makes Himself poor in the poverty-stricken neighbour, enabling us to draw on the treasure He has Himself deposited in us and to spend it generously on our fellow travellers.  This is a real, not a fictitious, giving to our divine Companion.  God has placed qualities in us, which he expects us to cultivate and use for the Companion’s enjoyment.  It may be a vertiginous exercise, when it seems necessary to leave Him for the service of others.  However, if we act according to the truth, before long we shall meet the Truth in person.  As St Vincent de Paul says: We only leave Christ for Christ.

 

            Finally, let us reflect on the delights of this companionship.

 

            He may speak to us directly as we walk on the road, kindling our hearts.  Says Origen: God does not merely dwell in the breadth of heart of the saints; He also walks therein[iii], as He walked in the garden in the cool of the day.  He speaks to us of the goal of eternal life, of the Father’s House and the welcome we shall receive from all who live there.  He speaks of the way itself and its features, pointing out their beauty and usefulness.  He shows us the best direction and the deviations to avoid, strengthening our faith by the warm light His Spirit sheds on familiar truths.  He may converse with us intimately, making us amazed at His own enjoyment of our poor company.  Sometimes the soul and its Companion walk together in the silence of mutual understanding.  Then He gives Himself to us as food and drink, so that we are always satisfied but never sated, always longing for more.  On this walk, there are other companions, as we have said, but there is no envy, no fear of losing His attention and love.  Since our Companion is divine and transcendent, He gives Himself wholly to each one.  Thus we all rejoice in one another’s company and in the image of the Beloved Companion which each one presents.

 

            There is another person who never leaves His side but walks discreetly in His shadow and looks after our needs with a similar solicitude.  This is Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother.

 

            Walking with Christ, with God, with His Mother and our fellow companions, belongs to the essence of our vocation.  The Christian, a fortiori the monk or nun, says Dom Jean-Charles Nault [iv], is one who walks (un marcheur)St Benedict says even that the monk must be one who runs – and by this very fact, he cannot stop.  Each step is, as it were a dispossession of the self and an abandonment to the unknown.  Each act of the Christian, of the monk or nun, must therefore be an opening of the self to the Other, an abandonment to God who guides and directs our steps towards the Father’s House.[v]



[i] Sermon 48.2

[ii] Commentary on Jo 1:26

[iii] Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans

[iv] Le Démon de Midi