Lenten Series: A Personal “Rule of Life” – Week I

Introduction: Lives Out of Control

We started our discussion with the question: how many of us have the feeling, some or all of the time, that our lives are “out of control”? That life is slipping by and leaving us unsatisfied? That our time, energies, money are going to meet other’s demands, demands upon us, leaving us with never enough?

Everyone laughed and raised their hands. We talked about the sense of “unfreedom” and people gave examples from their own lives. It seemed there were no shortage of these, in the areas of work, so-called “leisure” (so many gadgets, opportunities for entertainment, things to keep up with), family life (over-programmed kids), money (people over-extended). Several people mentioned the power of “supposed to”: all the demands arising from things we’re supposed to do or have. Church makes supposed to demands too!

Biblical Language for This

Holy Scripture has language for this. The Ten Commandments, the heart of the Hebrew Bible’s ethical teaching, begins with the Lord saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Bondage or slavery can be not just to a Pharaoh or ruler. The Commandments go on to say, “You shall have no other gods before me.” In other words, we can be enslaved to the gods of all these demands that we think are made on us, that we have to “worship” by giving them our lives. The Commandments were given to Israel as rules or guidelines to maintain freedom and avoid another enslavement.

This language is familiar to us when we talk about Jesus “freeing” us from our “sins.” We talked about what is sin? Sin is unfreedom, slavery to false gods, to demands that do not deliver satisfaction.

 

Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-540) and the History of Monastic “Life by Rule”

In late fifth century Italy, the society and culture of the Roman Empire was collapsing. Corruption, public and private, was everywhere. There was moral and political chaos. Benedict wanted to withdraw from this society and went into the mountains east of Rome, seeking seclusion where he could find personal freedom and wholeness. (How many of us move to a rural place like Weare looking for that?) Others followed him, and as the number of monks in his community grew, Benedict realized that he needed some structure, a set of rules (note the parallel to the Ten Commandments) in order to realize for the community the freedom they sought. Thus was born the Benedictine Rule, a comprehensive set of rules for daily life that is still the basis for monastic life.

At the heart of the Benedictine Rule are three vows: 1) stability – not to move from place to place, thing to thing, seeking satisfaction; 2) amendment of life (in Latin conversatio or conversion), meaning a commitment to grow and change as necessary to achieve the freedom and wholeness sought; and 3) obedience – to the Rule, the superior and the community.

 

Personal Rule of Life

Though we don’t live in monastic communities, developing a personal rule of life can help us bring order and freedom to our lives. Such a rule is based on our taking the various areas of our life in which we desire order and freedom, taking an honest look at the reality of what is going on in each of them, and then setting forth our hope for where we want to be. This hope can be guided by some piece of wisdom from the Bible or another spiritual source.

We asked people, during the week, to think of – and list – the areas in their lives that they’d “like to have a better handle on” by framing a rule for. Examples would be: money, work, family-marriage-children-parents, sleep, play, exercise-body-health, study/learning, friends, prayer/worship/inner life, service. (These are just starters; the list will differ from person to person.)

Next week we will work from these lists, showing how to go about framing a personal rule of life including each of them. We will look at how to use our rule as part of a daily discipline of reflection and renewal.

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