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.

Rules of the Road

When I was in high school, I memorized the rules of the road.  Actually I didn’t, but it sounded so good when I read that sentence I had to leave it.  I should probably say that I read the rules.  I knew them well enough, even though I only got a B during the traffic portion of my exam, thanks to the poor attention span of a heavy teacher whose name I won’t mention.  My first job in high school was in our school’s driver education center, and I worked with that teacher and several others. 

I was the guy who set up the “range,” pulling orange cones in formation depending on the day of instruction.  My favorite was day seven because I had to set up the figure 8 for the class.  The eighth and last day was reserved for parallel parking, something I got good at.  But I digress. 

I took the cars to the mechanic on 63rd Street to get oil changed, to have tires repaired, or to get the vehicles winterized.  I drove each car to the gas station whenever necessary, usually going to 87th & the Dan Ryan.  I took them to the Amoco in Evergreen Park so I could get them washed.  The Chicago Public School surrendered the Amoco credit card to me, and I had to improvise and put general expenses it.  The station on 95th near the Plaza was the only one near Simeon where I could get a full tank and a wash.  Well, perhaps, it wasn’t the only one, but I was in high school, driving eight different cars.  Do you think I’d find the closest car wash owned by Amoco?

For two years I unnerved my friends by pointing out their driving mistakes, shaking my head when they didn’t click their signals before changing lanes.  I would even smash my foot down in the passenger side floor when friends got too close to the car in front of us, thinking of the cars in our center which came equipped with a passenger-side emergency brake in case the teacher needed to stop the car.  I still do that to this day when Peter Hong or my wife or anybody else drives too fast, though they don’t notice. 

The rules are important. 

And I didn’t get rid of rules when I started in ministry.  In our seminary I was introduced to a different rule.

Each year students in the seminary write or revise a document as a part of the vocational formation course I teach with a few other church leaders.  The document is called a Rule of Life.  Though it will be revised at several points in each seminarian’s career over the two or three years, it is an important first draft.  Thursday our students handed in their assignments.  I have yet to read them and jot my feedback down.  I’m looking forward to it.

A Rule of Life is a document that you develop to capture the activities you will engage in or refrain from as you attempt to live a balanced life.  It comes out of the Benedictine tradition.  Benedict was a monk who withdrew from wider society with the hopes of living a cloistered life in a monastery.  He wrote a Rule book to detail for other monks in his Order how to go about manual labor, prayer, solitude, study, and community.  His book became popular and has been the foundation for many centuries on developing a Rule of Life. 

A Rule is best thought of as a structure, a helpful structure that helps to facilitate spiritual growth.  You write it to focus in on areas you feel weak in, areas you’d like to stretch or grow in, and you always include a measure of accountability so that you can track your movement.

It can focus on spirituality or relationships or work.  In fact, it can have many areas of focus, but since it came out of the monastic tradition, it’s used mostly for developing activities which help a person engage the Divine.  Developing a Rule is connected to developing you.  So when writing one, you query your insides for the things that resonate with you, causes you are inclined toward, issues you feel called to address.  And you formulate goals around those things. 

Are there rules, Benedictine or otherwise, that you live by?  If so, what are they?