Lovely though it would be to linger over the first section of the prologue of St Benedict to his Rule, with its insistence on listening, the glory of obedience and the necessity of prayer, by verse 8 we are plunged into action. From now until the end of the Rule we shall be hastening, running, following, and all with an urgency that will not be denied. The Rule is concerned with our salvation in Christ: we must do now what will profit us for eternity, so there can be no dawdling on the way.
At first sight, that runs counter to the popular view that monasticism is about opting out, slowing down, stillness; and insofar as the opting out and so on is mere avoidance of responsibility or engagement with others, the implied criticism is just. We do not become monks and nuns to be less involved with humanity but more. It is the way in which we are involved that differs.
Without prayer, without the daily search for God, monastic life is nothing. Nor can it be a kind of ‘off and on’ process, with periods when we cease to be monastic. It cannot be crammed into an hour or two of the day’s activities. It is what we might call a ‘whole life plan’. Every moment of every day must be ordered towards the monastic purpose. That is why I think Benedict uses such active verbs and has us running everywhere. It is his way of insisting on the intensity of our engagement and reminding us that we have only one life in which to fulfil our vocation. For some, that life will be long; for others, short. Whatever, as our younger friends say, what matters is that we make a start. Now.