On a spiritual Pathway

This is the shortest of Daniel’s books, but very helpful to an understanding of his purposes and of the contemplative life. It is the contemplative life which is the Pathway of the title, and is approached through a discussion of what it means to be a monk, a word which unfortunately tends to bring up quite the wrong sort of meaning.

The French for our “monk” is moine, which Daniel tells us seems to derive from a Greek word meaning single or solitary. This can be seen in two ways: firstly, simply being alone; but secondly as being “one” in the sense of unified. While it is easy to go out of the world, become a monk, in the physical sense, this is by no means the same as having left behind attachments to the world, and indeed a true monk can be “one” in the midst of a crowd. It is this sense of the contemplative, integrated life which Daniel seeks to bring to the protestant church world to which he belongs, a sense we might well feel is lacking both corporately and individually.

Daniel looks briefly at the background to the monastic movement. He says that at a time when the then known world had been evangelized, it was felt that the remaining frontiers were internal, that the inner man needed to be evangelized, hence withdrawal into the desert. It was also thought that to do this was to follow Christ into the wilderness; above all it was to seek a life completely devoted to God. Daniel makes explicit that the solitude of contemplation and prayer combined with a community is his objective.

Monks typically have a threefold vow: poverty, obedience and chastity. These are discussed in their relevance to us: poverty, as not thinking of ourselves as rich, but as always in deep need of God — Luther, it seems, said that “at the end of the day, we are no more than beggars”; obedience as learning to be like Jesus who did only his Father’s will; and chastity, as our need to love God and our neighbour — not other things.

Fulfilling these three vows may be seen as our spiritual warfare, an important part of which in the monastic life has to do with the Psalms; Daniel looks briefly at this. He also defines spiritual warfare as asceticism, for a full discussion of which see the book of that title (see Spiritual discipline). Similarly subverting the way we may see certain words is the way this book closes: the one and only true monk — is Christ.

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