by Charles LaFond
I love this wreath. It implies a set of scales. And I believe a Rule of life offers us the opportunity to partner with God in co-creativity; to daily weigh and balance our lives, asking ourselves if we are living the life we want to live. Back when I had an immature faith, it was easy to outsource responsibility to God by asking “What is God’s call on my life?” I do believe God calls. Sometimes. Some of us. But mostly, God is less ancient and cranky than that. I think God is more youthful and jovial, saying “Hey, you, my beloved! What joy do you want? Let’s make it, you and I!!!” Not so much scales of justice, as scales of measure. The measure of the joy we are able and willing to make with great choices and a good map!
So in this series (look at past articles to see how we got here or read on!) we are looking at the Rule of life! What is a Rule of Life and why bother?
A Rule of Life is an ancient, Christian tool to live a great, aware and joyful life. A Rule of life is a daily course-correction written by you, for you.
To write your rule of life, you just write a series of statements about your life’s hopes on 30 or so topics you decide are your most essential choice-areas: food, rest, work, play, health, love, etcetera. And then as you re-read each paragraph or paragraphs – one per day you are following your own maps! You are re-stepping on the stepping stones you have laid out for your life. This way, over thirty days, you have been reminded of thirty things you have written about how you want to live – like checking a map every day to see if you are on course or, as so often happens, off course a bit and needing a course-correction. (More on this next week.)
By daily reminding yourself of some aspect of life – and your hopes for it in yours, you are taking bold, clear steps towards a joyful life – weighed and measured by you, for you, in the context of God’s love.
Being lost happens by many small mis-steps – like ignoring the map and taking too many wrong turns in a row. Most marriages do not fail because of one misstep – they fail because of many, very small, careless missteps – left unnoticed, unchecked on the map we call Rule of Life. Same with bankruptcy – poor choice, after poor choice, down a road without a reminder of how it could be different – how you had wanted it to be… So why not have a tool to help you live your life – one you wrote with God? A Rule of life.
Why a rule of life?
Meister Eckhart: “If you know God, you know that God’s primary activity is giving birth.”
Living well, as well as you can, given life’s vulnerabilities, is a contract with God for the willingness for something new to be born in you. It requires deep humility and many course-corrections. Communities, from long before the time of Christ, have written a Rule of Life as a guide for how they want to live together and what boundaries are to be set. It is very likely that Jesus was aware of, if not involved in, the Essene Community, which lived its life by a very detailed and comprehensive Rule of Life – a Jewish form of monastic living.
A Rule of life is a written document with a series of “chapters” (a few paragraphs on a specific topic) each of which deal with a topic of life which around which you feel you want to have norms established. (In the next article, some model chapters will be offered as examples.)
Our legal system is a corporate, secular Rule of Life. But an individual can have a Rule of Life as well. That is what this Epiphany Season of blogs is about – thirty small chapters explaining how to write your own Rule of Life.
Writing your own Rule of Life is easy! It will take you about 30 minutes over 30 days and if you keep at it, at the end, you will have your first draft! Make a list of the areas in which a daily reminder of how we live would be helpful – such as food, home, worship, study, rest, playfulness, prayer, church involvement, sex, friendship, money, mindfulness, conflict, marriage (if you are in one), relational boundaries, children, family, illness, creativity, etc. Then simply draft a “chapter” for each topic. (We will go into more details over the next 30 Sips but this is basically it!
A “chapter” of a Rule of Life may be as long as a few pages or as short as a few sentences. I suggest most people write something between 250 – 600 words per chapter since I feel that reading your rule should only take 2-3 minutes a day as part of your daily spiritual practice. The important thing is that it not be so long that you will not end up reading your chapter each day. Make each chapter readable in a single setting and not so laborious that you will not want to have to read it regularly. And try to keep them all about the same length with some exceptions.
Once you have written your chapters and agreed (if in a family or church community) on their content, they are assembled into a three ring binder and each chapter is read out loud regularly as part of your morning devotions. One a day – like checking a map to be sure you are on course.
This is holy reading, which means that you are still, the reading is in the context of your time with God, and your reading is slow and intentional. The difference between these “chapters” and “Bible chapters” or “chapters” from your favorite novel, is that your Rule was written by you, in the context of God, for you to have read to you by you. Every time you hear a chapter – read out loud or silently, your words, written to yourself, are a reminder of how you have chosen to live your life. As you read each chapter, you may sometimes find that what you are reading is not what you are living and so t=you become aware of the need for a course-correction to get back on track. For example, if you are reading a chapter about health in which you say you do not want to drink to excess, and you are reading it with a hangover, well, you may need a course correction -but a small one, because you are not too far off course.
These chapters are correctives when you migrate into ways of life which you did not intend for yourself. For example, when a person writes a chapter on “friendship” which states that you commit to maintaining carefully connected friendships, the regular reading of that chapter reminds you (once every thirty days if you have thirty chapters) that you want to do this, why you want to do this, and what joy you hope it will bring you and has brought others in the past. Then, if you find you get busy and neglect your friendships, then when you hear this chapter read out loud, it hurts a bit. Then you self-correct and remain on your path.
A Rule of Life helps a person or a community to remember and live by its intentions, making it harder to wander off course.
Designing the “chapters” of a Rule of Life
Before you can write your chapters, you need to title them so that you know what topics your chapters will cover and what main issues you want to set out as primary hopes for a life well-lived. A “chapter” of a Rule of Life may be as long as a few pages or as short as a few sentences. The important thing is to make each chapter readable in a single setting and not so laborious that you will not want to have to read it regularly. The key to any life-improving pursuit is that it be reasonable and doable. Lofty goals which are never more than goals – are never realized in practice are not very helpful. So you want your chapters to have topics relevant to your living your life and lengths such that over breakfast or as part of your exercise routine or your prayer routine or your morning routine, you can access each “chapter” as a daily reminder of what your hope was and continues to be for the various aspects of your life.
This raises the question of what those various aspects or headings or chapters could be titled. Again, one does not need so many different subjects that the Rule becomes too long or too laborious. St. Francis is attributed with the valuable saying “do few things well” and this applies here also. If you have seven chapters in your Rule then you only have seven issues you are working with and so every seven days, you will begin again at the beginning and are able to manage the entire Rule in a week’s time. This set of few chapters would allow you to work hard on seven issues but after a few weeks it might get dull. One may wish to have 14 chapters so that there is a two-week cycle or 30 chapters for a monthly cycle of daily readings.
Some thought will need to be given to the chapters of your Rule just as one might sit down and write an outline of a book or a list of things to do. One may go to a monastery or take a day of vacation or go sit in a forest to think up the list of possible chapters. I would suggest setting time aside for the development of the initial list of possible chapters and then let it sit for a while – during which you will find that some chapter titles are let go of and others materialize with new awareness and discernment. Once you have your list, you can start writing your chapters realizing that at any time along the way. You can delete and add chapter titles as your begin working with the material of your life.
Here are some possible titles:
End of life
What would your list of 30 chapters look like? Try making a list?
For the past 3.5 million years, humans have wandered the earth making lives. Our species has spent all but the last 160 years living in relative silence, hunting and gathering in small groups. So, if a series of books – say, volumes 1-4 were to be written about our human experience on earth, and the combined volumes were 3,500 pages, then the kind of life we live, full of faxes, cell phones, emails, internet news, advertisements, living standards, day-timers, and 24hour weather reports – this over-stimulated life we lead – would be discussed in a fragment, of the final word, of the final sentence, of the final 875 page volume, of the set of four volumes.
What does it mean for us to be so over-stimulated and to be navigating life with 10,000 daily choices and 5,000 daily choice inputs (advertising) of which half are fear-based? What does a human do when there are so many choices to be made in a day? And what does a Christian do when those choices are to be held up against a particularly anti-American and anti-cultural set of spiritual, biblical and moral norms? How do we know what to do? How do we “stay on course?”
One way to stay on course is to decide on the course, write down the course and then keep checking the map – the Rule of Life – to see that you are still on course. And if in reading and weighing your life you see that you are off course, well then, simply course-correct.
(Next week look for an article on how to write your chapters and some sample chapters as a way to get started!)