”The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”Thomas Moore
For some time now there has been growing concern for authentic practice; placing emphasis on the spirituality of daily life and reclaiming a Rule of Life as a strategy to strengthen and reflect Godly characteristics. In a sense, it is like a checklist of practices we intentionally undertake to maintain and deepen our relationship with God.
Intentional self-discipline allows God to transforms us. Without our knowing it we may already observe elements of a Rule of Life … taking time for morning devotionals, returning thanks before meals, or saying bedtime prayers.
The very first step to creating a Rule of Life is to take stock of where you already are.
Ordinary arts we practice every day often require discipline. Sometimes I would much rather leave dishes in the sink, but they would pile up, and I value not only a clean plate for the next meal but the eyesore removed. Isn’t it a good thing we brush our teeth, stop at red lights, get up in time for work, and maybe even going to church? We incorporate disciplines like these into our life because we value what they offer in return – fresh breath, safety on our streets, employment, a sense of God in our life.
In regards to Christian life, self-discipline begins with a basic premise that God is a who — not a what, and that Jesus lived out the characteristics of God — love, forgiveness, kindness, joy, et al. Becoming a follower of Jesus is a choice to live out the characteristics of God as he did, as best we can. This is where discipline comes in handy. In this sense a ‘Rule of Life’ becomes a tool to help us maintain boundaries and measure progress as opposed to a forced list of rules that produces guilt.
Adopting a Rule of Life involves being in covenant with God. Bringing intention and accountability to our spiritual practice and encouraging us to set goals for our spiritual growth, working steadily over time to achieve them. Becoming aware of God’s presence and activity makes the common holy. Much like bread and wine, our attention is called to the sacramental nature of the every-day where ‘outward and visible signs’ of God’s grace are continually in action.
A Rule of Life creates a structure for being mindful — of God, the gift of life and of our own mortality — becoming aware of how we are spending our time each day, how we might spend it better — and the gap between those two things. When we find the courage and discipline to incorporate just one practices into our daily routine we are encouraged to push ourselves a little farther.
Attitudes can also be brought under a Rule of Life such as our response to authority, acceptance of the “other”, rejection of grumbling, cynicism or sarcasm, forgiveness and respect for others.
Living a Rule of Life does not mean living an unblemished life, just an intentional one. Taking on particular time-tested practices draws us toward a life patterned on Jesus such as reading and meditating on Scripture, praying regularly, participating in the sacraments, especially Eucharist and reconciliation, exercising sacrificial self-giving, observing periods of silence and practicing hospitality.
It is essential that we adopt a Rule that fits us – comfortable, but also one that stretches. Some choose to follow a Rule formulated by and for a community; others choose to shape their own. Practices of any Rule should be natural and lived out in a rhythm that fits our ordinary lives.
Daily repetition of simple practices can do more to nurture deep, meaningful spiritual growth than the occasional mountain-top experience.
A growing intimacy with God is the reward. Daily repetition of simple practices can do more to nurture deep, meaningful spiritual growth than the occasional mountain-top experience. However, practice is the operative word. A Rule of Life is not meant to be a demanding test or a stressful exercise. Even if your Rule is an individual one, it is lived out in community with others. It is through reflection with others that we discern our growth.
The very first step to creating a Rule of Life is to take stock of where you already are. Once that’s clear, it’s easier to give attention to the things that truly matter. Take time to follow these simple directions so you can make time for the things most important to you.
- Draw a vertical line dividing a piece of paper in half. Two-thirds of the way down the page, draw a horizontal line, labeling the top two quadrants daily & weekly, the smaller bottom quadrants monthly & yearly.
- In each of the quadrants, write whatever you already do “on purpose” that helps you become more mindful of God at work in your life – whether daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly. This might include daily quiet time or reading, church attendance or Bible study, a monthly meeting, or an annual retreat, serving at a soup kitchen, making music, managing a prayer list, protesting, or just saying “Lord have mercy” instead of losing your temper. Be honest. This is not a test of your piety (no one’s looking over your shoulder), and it is not a wish list of what you hope to do someday. If there’s only one thing — or nothing at all — that’s a good place to start. Likewise, if you already have lots of things crowding the spaces, one of your challenges may be to prune some of your activities.
- Next to each item on your list write “P” if it involves you in prayer or worship or conscious contact with God. “G” if it represents a “growth” item for you, increasing your skill or your understanding. “S” to represent service to the community or the church. Your letter choice is entirely subjective – one person’s “G” might be another’s “S” or “P.”
- Finally, take stock of your current practices with these questions. Is my present practice right for me in the present, truly reflecting who I am, or is it a leftover from another time in my life? Does my present practice reflect balance – in the four quadrants and in the prayer, growth and service components? Is the rhythm right for me?
- Does some element appear to be missing or underdeveloped? How might God be calling me to adjust my present practice by adding one or two items, taking something away, or changing their frequency to deepen your relationship?
A wonderful Rule of Life resource is found through the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, where “God, the Chief Gardener of our souls, invites us to grow into fullness of life. Just as stakes and lattices nurture the growth of young plants, so too can spiritual disciplines support the flourishing of our whole being.” Explore a tool from monastic spirituality called a ‘Rule of Life’ to cultivate your relationships with God, Self, Others, and Creation.
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