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.

A Mini Examen

The prayer of examen is an old way of praying through the movements of days.  It involves taking a few deep breaths, thinking about what happened in the day, noticing where God felt especially close and especially far, and remembering the feelings that came along through the day.

It’s a way of praying that can be done for chunks of time, like a week or a month or even a year.  Many people pray this prayer daily, building a life of mini examens.  Over time those little prayers–noticing God here and not there, re-feeling things that we misplaced somewhere else–become a way of determining what really gives us life.  They become a way for us to see the doors we need to push closed and the ones we must hurry through.

Personal Retreats, pt. 3

What do you do during a retreat?  How do you attend to matters of the heart or the mind or the spirit?  I have a couple suggestions, again pulling from my own and from much smarter and more spiritually enriched friends from faith.

  1. Sleep.  This is basic, but it takes on new meaning when you’ve spent a year or more having the normal rhythm of your sleep being turned up and down and shaken violently by a sweet cute child who knows nothing about sleeping habits.  You can’t really hear God or grow in depth and character if you’re not taking care of yourself.  That’s the point.  Sleep is indispensable to good health.  My spiritual director, who I quote when I talk about these types of things, once said to me something like, “If you’re not dreaming, you’re not sleeping well.  In order to dream, you need to rest.”  I left that monthly session back then–and not that this was the only point–knowing that some of my inability to dream, to see, to be inspired is only tied to my need for rest and nothing else.
  2. Read poetry.  G.K. Chesterton said, “The greatest of poems is an inventory” (Orthodoxy).  If you’re spending time with your God and trying to deepen that friendship, poetry is a good way to tap into the real humanness represented in poetry.  Poems say things we can’t.  Writers help connect us to us.  The Bible’s poetical books are a great gift (e.g., Job or Psalms).  I’d include in this suggestion other spiritual readings.  This time, over my weekend, I read a few short stories from Gumbo and Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor.  I also picked up a couple helpful books by Richard Rohr and the latest novel by my friend through the net, Tayari Jones.
  3. Ride a train.  You may think I’m kidding, but a long train route is incredibly centering.  It slows you down.  It allows you to see parts of a town or country that you’d ordinarily pass by.  It’s calming.  Except, of course, when you’re sitting next to a man for 40 hours who knows the intricacies of the Kennedy assassination and has to tell you about it, along with how he is a direct descendant of Moses and other unique parts of his life story.
  4. Sit and do nothing.  Solitude is the practice of doing nothing.  Not thinking or reading or praying or meditating or waiting or studying.  Solitude is contemplation.  It is listening.  It’s hard to do solitude because we all are used to and comfortable with doing.  Henri Nouwen wrote that our lives become absurd, and he said that that word, absurd, was from the Latin and meant deaf.  He said that the discipline, the repetitive act, of solitude is one of the most powerful ways to combat that deafness, which is an absurd life without hearing God.  Try this for a minute and then two and then three.  When you can sit and do nothing other than listen for the voice of God, you’re transforming.
  5. Watch something beautiful.  This could be you watching and listening to a jazz performance.  It might be you listening to a street performer or sitting on a bench across from a tree waving in the wind.  It may be a visit to a garden.  Our days are filled with many things, but I’m sure we all could use more beauty in our schedules.  Use a retreat–again, folks, this could look like a walk around your office building during the lunch hour–to see beauty in the midst of your life.  You’re not avoiding the ugly.  You’re noticing something else.  And that enlarges you inside.
  6. Spend time doing those other things.  Other gestures that you could add into a retreat–or form an entire retreat around for that matter–include reading a single chapter of scripture, praying through a number of ancient prayers from your religious tradition, or fasting from food.
  7. Plan to come back to “someones”.  Retreats are only effective when you plan to return to people.  Even further, they’re effective when you look to return to others in order to live differently, live like you’ve heard something fresh.  And this isn’t just for pastors, folks.  It’s for parents or significant others or students or teachers.  You insert the next one.  Times away are good and useful and enriching not because we focus on ourselves but because we get to incorporate what we get, if we get something, into our relationships, communities, jobs, and lives.