Living with a Rule of Life
In monastic communities, the community typically gathers each morning in what is called the Chapter Room of the monastery or convent, and the abbot or superior reads a chapter from the community’s rule — working through the whole rule, day by day. The monks or nuns then reflect together on how they are living their rule, what needs to be changed in their lives to do so better, their thoughts and feelings about the rule. With a personal rule of life, you too can take a chapter a day (or one for the whole week), checking in as it were on how you are doing living with it.
Beginning to Draft a Rule
Last week we ended our session by asking everyone to think of all the areas of their lives that would be candidates of gaining clearer focus and better direction. Each such area becomes the title of a chapter in your rule of life: e.g. Money, Work, Prayer (Inner Life), Family, Recreation, Computer Time, Exercise, Health, Service, Worship. These areas will vary from person to person. It’s probably better to start work on a few chapters, adding to them as you go along. Work on one may suggest others you want to add.
The next step, after you have your list of a few areas, to prepare an outline page for each one (see handout). The parts of this outline are:
- Sources of guidance: what do you see in Scripture, church tradition or reason regarding this topic?
- What do you see in yourself regarding this topic (and “honest inventory”)?
- What are your goals for how your life will express this topic?
- What measures will you take to encourage the goals you have set for yourself (people, resources, checks and balances, boundaries, etc.)?
- What do you seek from God in assistance regarding this topic?
As you work with your chapters, others may suggest themselves. Keep each chapter simple. For instance, if you are writing a chapter on friendship and see that you need to make time for friendship, that may lead you to write a chapter on time (or stewardship of time). Or it may lead you to see that you need a chapter on your marriage or your family.
About “Sources of Guidance”
For Anglicans, authority is a matter of working with Scripture (the Bible), tradition (Church teachings and practice through the ages), and reason (our intelligence, experience and modern developments in knowledge). All of these may be sources of guidance for you in writing your chapter. You will want to set forth very simply how you see these as authorities or guides for your life.
About “an Honest Inventory”
This is about where you start in your growth. Your rule will be no better than your honesty with yourself on where you are now in an area and why you are there – what traps you there, what are your problems getting “free”? This may lead you to seek the sacrament of Reconciliation or to counseling: it helps to confess honestly to another person (one trained and authorized).
Your goals can best be expressed in terms of hopes. Hope is one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope and love). It has to do with the direction of our lives. (Biblical images: Abram in today’s OT reading.) We’ll come back to hope in the next session of this series.
In using each chapter of your rule, you will want some fairly practical guidelines and supports to help you bring your life into conformity with your hopes for it. For instance, if you hope to avoid unnecessary spending, your “encouragements” section of the money chapter might commit you to a weekly inventory of just where your money has gone. If you are dealing with addiction, you might commit to attending a certain number of 12-step meetings each week. In other words, this section will have some practical, fairly measurable means to help and encourage you in keeping your rule and working towards your hopes.
Assistance from God
A very important part of living out a rule is asking God for assistance. This will become a central focus of your prayer life. In this section of the rule, you will be asking for the help and support you need — not just in a general way, but rather specifically: “I will pray daily to the Lord to keep me from the temptation of . . . .” “I will take an honest inventory and confess to God each night before I go to bed the ways in which I have failed to live in obedience to this chapter.”