Several years back I participated in a continuing education effort that introduced me to the idea of a rule of life. I did some reading around the origin of rules among the Early Church Fathers. I also joined a clergy group in visiting a Benedictine monastery where we learned more, first hand, about the Rule of St. Benedict. As a dyed in the wool Protestant – Baptist at that – these were new discoveries for me. But I found I was drawn to learn more.
St. Augustine is reported to have been among the first to develop and write out his rule for those whom he mentored and guided in the faith. St. Benedict developed what has become the most known of the monastic order rules. My copy of The Rule of St. Benedict in English is 96 pages long. It covers such things as praying the hours, guidelines for brothers living in communal quarters, and very practical things such as “restraint of speech”, “humility” and “hospitality”.
The idea of following a rule of life, that is a prescribed routine or set of guidelines by which you live; while it sounds restrictive, may actually bring freedom to one’s faith experience. By definition a “rule” is simply a voluntary means be which we, under God, take responsibility for our (spiritual) lives. I put spiritual in parenthesis because I’m not sure we should delineate that part of our life from the rest. Bottom line, a rule can bring order to your life and help you stay centered in Christ. It’s very structure can free you from the chaos and wanderings of an undisciplined life.
After the visit to the monastery and some further reading, I set out to write my own daily rule. In it I prescribed for myself a daily routine of spiritual practice, work, exercise and play, as well as family time and reading. It was an interesting experiment that helped me think about how a focused approach to daily life could organize one’s faith development. I’m not sure how long I stuck with that rule, but it was for a season.
Today, my rule of life is much more free flowing, though some of those very practices mentioned above are still part of the flow. Having anchors or routines in your life that call you to prayer, remind you to read, or bring you into faith community is healthy and helpful.
This Sunday I’ll be preaching on the rule of life that Jesus gives us Matthew 7:12: In everything do to others as you would have them do to you. (NRSV) His rule is much easier to remember than the one I wrote, or the one the Benedictines live by. If only we all took it to heart, what a more organized, thoughtful and free world we would live in.
What is your rule of life?