Creating a Rule of Life, pt 4

Study.  One word that doesn’t exactly inspire people.  It’s read as a command to most of us.

Our teachers tell us to study.  Our parents repeat the same.  We are told by tests and by jobs and preachers and their scriptures.  Study.  Can this word, this act, be at all worth our incorporating into a rule that forms and transforms us?

I heard a colleague say the other day that Christian spirituality is not anti-intellectual.  We were discussing a class we’re preparing to teach, talking about the reading load for it versus other courses similarly categorized.  We were in agreement that what we had (and will have) students read was necessary for the work we were trying to accomplish in the course.

One way of thinking through how study fits into the Rule is by asking what the objective is.  Dallas Willard’s writing is thick with this.  He says in many ways that to be a Christian is to be a student of Jesus.  We cannot be students of Jesus (or any religion really) if we are not learners.  We have to study to be his followers.

I think to something a mentor said to me years ago about preaching.  He said, “I don’t study to get ready.  I study to be ready.”  It was his way of saying that his work (and, by hopeful implication, my work) was to prepare in a way that he was always reasonably within the neighborhood the scriptures, always in some portion of conversation with God, always asking the hard questions of how whatever God said related to what we say.

What’s the objective?  That’s one question.  Another question in preparation for the Rule is, “What do I need to know right now?” Another version of that is, “What do I need to grow in over the season that this Rule will be in effect?”

Sometimes we focus ourselves on certain things.  For a while, I was only reading 19th century United States of American history.  I had to focus on it.  In seminary I trained my gaze on pastoral care and theology.  I’ve sensed pushed myself to read poetry, to always be reading fiction, poetry, theology, and history.  To dabble in a collection of essays and to look for a good memoir.  For me, this choice is an extension of the study part of my internal Rule.  I need to always be growing in these areas.  Language is at the core of all my work.  Church, teaching, curriculum, and counseling all require the precise, careful, thoughtful and regular use of words well chosen.  So that frames what I study.

A final question worth pondering is, “What’s in me that I need to study?”  This gets down to me in my rule.  I need to see certain things about myself that I’m not seeing.  I need to notice not only the words of others in those published materials, but I need to read and review the words and phrases etched in me.

Creating a Rule of Life, pt 3

Prayer is much broader than saying something to God.  That’s a good partial summary of prayer.  But there are, at least, two things that would enrich that summary.  The first is small, the second a lot larger.

First, as much as prayer is about talking to God, it is also about God talking back.  Some people have trouble with that.  After all, God talking back can be problematic.

It’s hard to know when God’s talking.  It’s hard not to blame things on God after you’ve gotten adjusted to this God-back-talking.  People have said that God has said a lot of suspicious things.  Plus, there’s the problem of that creative utterance.  In the scriptures, when God speaks, things move, people live, people die, worlds that weren’t become.  God’s speech is full and capable and hardly tentative.

Back to the second part about prayer: it is communicating with God whether or not there are words.  There is a passage in the New Testament that encourages what Eugene Peterson calls “prayerfulness.”  The passage says that we should pray without stopping, pray all the time, pray constantly (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Commentators split about what this means in the pastoral letter, and the way Peterson comes to such language is by talking about prayerfulness.

Prayer is at the center of the Rule of Life.  Communicating with God, you talking to God and God talking to you, is the assumption of the Rule.  Of course, if God communicates with us, then we can hear what God says.  We can keep in the direction of God.  We can continue listening to the various ways God will speak.  Even when there aren’t words, we can train ourselves and our gestures in God’s direction.  We can add things which help us attend to God.  We can remove things that take such full-awareness-of-God away.

The act of preparing a Rule, then, can be prayerful.  Breathing and whispering for God to guide you as you think about what to do and what not to do is as much prayer as anything.  Waiting for that guidance is prayer too.  Waiting all day long, opening yourself up, is prayer too.  Do you get the picture?

So, whisper that in your own way: what should I do, God?  What should I focus on?

You’re already surrounding the creation of your Rule in prayer.  And now, start listening.

Creating a Rule of Life, pt 2

The center of your life never needs much explanation because life centers always have all of us communicating for them.  We communicate with our full selves who or what is at the center of us.

In other words, I know the bottom of a person’s spirit by good observation, listening, and patience.  Those three behaviors help me pay attention both to who that person is and to who or what sits at the center of that individual.

You can see my presupposition: everybody has something sitting at the center of his or her being.  There may be exceptions that I’d make to that comment, but most people have something or someone that is primary and of ultimate significance.  Something at the center.

Most people who practice a religion would accept their religious rituals and behaviors and teachings as outflows of that language about Someone at the center.  That would be God.

Religious or not (if a person can not be religious), living well cannot be done without knowing who’s there.  Further, living well cannot be done without conscious choosing who’s at the center and who gets to stay there.

To create a Rule, it’s helpful consider who or what is at the center of one’s life.  In that consideration, we question our behaviors and choices in an effort to inspect the bottom of those behaviors and choices.  We look at our selves through the lens of our experiences in order to wonder around into the deeper floors of our selves.

We ask, what am I doing?  It’s a plain question.  What do I spend myself on?  A calendar starts the answer.  I’ve spent my days, my thoughts, my time doing thus and so.  The surface level answers lead us to a less-seen, less-trafficked place: the center.

We ask more questions.  What does this calendar of thoughts and behaviors say about my values?  What do these things say about who is of importance to me?

Creating a Rule of Life is an activity of putting God continually at that center.  But the survey of who or what is there first may open us to the kinds of activities we need to employ in order to unseat someone else.

Creating a Rule of Life, pt 1

I have been pulling together materials for a curriculum, in part, to teach and develop small group leaders in our church.  A piece of that lesson series is about the development of a Rule of Life.  One of the writers who is helping to frame my thoughts on the Rule is Debra K. Farrington.  She’s a writer, educator, and spiritual director.  I’ve also been influenced in understanding the Rule of Life as a practice over the years by writers Adele Calhoun, Richard Foster, Dwight Judy, and Marjorie Thompson.

According to Adele Calhoun, rules help us live toward what we most want.  We live by rules, whether we acknowledge them or not.  In fact, most of the rules we live by are unconscious.  Some might say that our rules are implicit rather than explicit.  When we’re asked a question about an implicit rule–why do you go to church on the weekends, for example–we wake up to the rhythms we’ve kept; we might inspect them, we might change them.

The Rule of Life is simple way of talking about what we most want, who we want to be, and how we will go about pursuing that vision.  It aides us in focusing on all our parts, not just our “spiritual” selves.  Most Rules have some language about work, rest, and play for example.  And the word Rule shouldn’t worry you.  It can be substituted by any of the following: way of life, practice of life, means of life.

I think of a Rule as a container of practices.  It is the statement that contains what practices, over a period of time, we’ll observe in an effort to respond to Love.  A Rule is a statement of things we’ll do, attitudes we’ll cultivate or intentionally be aware of, as we relate to a loving God.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll write a brief post using Farrington’s categorical outline for the components of the Rule of Life.  As part of these posts–or the background of them–I’m revising my own Rule.  I invite you to join me.

Something I Read

I was researching a question for someone, and I came across this in my work: The struggles you probably face in living a life centered on God–while they may be new to you–are not new to humankind.

This feels to me like a very good reminder.  It’s an impressive statement because it speaks to my own inferior places, my own fears, and my own hardships.  But it’s equally impressive because it’s right.

What we’ve experienced as we’ve attempted our religious reaches toward God, our responses to the One who has always reached first, these experiences are common.  Humans have always sensed the Divine, and humans have always experienced that sense as inviting and terrifying, as worthy and hard, as beauty and horror.

It’s the origin of creativity and art and prayer and sex and sleep and addiction. At the bottom of us is the mixed experience of struggle and relief which responds to great love.  And our struggles are not new.  They’ve been lived through before.

May we take comfort in the stories of others who have been where we’re headed and who have left good instructions for the paths under our feet.