Tomatoes, grapes, any sort of vine, and many other kinds of plants need support in order to grow. They need a trellis which they can cling to in order to spread out and bear fruit. People are no different. We need some sort of structure or support in order to move forward. It’s why we made calendars. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years mark out our time and help us to understand and make sense of our lives. Here, at the beginning of a new year, many people begin to make resolutions in order to reorient and reorganize the other systems that structure life.
Resolutions presume that there is a problem and that past solutions have not fixed it. So we begin to look for new solutions, re-solutions. Resolutions grow out of the ache that life might be a far greater thing that we’ve known it yet to be. And so we search for a better underlying support for us to spread ourselves out on.
The Christian faith has a phrase for this kind of structure. It is called a Way of Life or a Rule of Life. In scripture, Jesus declares himself to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and in Acts, the church is briefly referred to as “the Way.” The ancient mystics and monks created and lived by a Rule of Life, which aided their gatherings, prayers, songs, and chants as well as the kinds of work and service they did.
Many may wince at words like “way” or “rule” because they have experienced abuse in being told to do things “a certain way” or forced to “follow the rules.” That is not what I am suggesting or what the Christian practice of a “Way of Life” is meant to cause. Though much of today’s culture may have an allergic reaction to these kinds of words, what I am trying to explain is that everyone has a Way of Life. We, like those plants, need structure in order to survive. So it is not a matter of whether or not to have some kind of Way, but rather what sort of Way one will have. And this season of reorienting life is perfect for exploring the rich tradition of a Way of Life.
So what is it? Majorie Thompson describes it this way:
A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. When we speak of patterns in our life, we mean attitudes, behaviors, or elements that are routine, repeated, regular. Indeed, the Latin term for “rule” is regula, from which our words regular and regulate derive. A rule of life is not meant to be restrictive, although it certainly asks for genuine commitment. It is meant to help us establish a rhythm of daily living, a basic order within which new freedoms can grow. A rule of life, like a trellis, curbs our tendency to wander and supports of frail efforts to grow spiritually. (Majorie Thompson in Soul Feast)
A little over a year ago, I reflected on my own life to identify my habits and my values (the things I do and the things I aspire to) and created a more formal “Way of Life.” Today I have revisited that and am realigning myself to it. I thought I might share it with you all in the hopes of inspiring you to reflect on your life and create your own. May you be blessed this year and may your life find all the support it needs in order to grow into wholeness.
A Rule of Life according to the Greatest Commandment
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)
Love the Lord your God with all your heart:
Rhythms of community and relation.
Be actively part of a local church. This locates your spiritual life and gives a natural space for all that follows to take place. Do not just go to church, but be part of a church. Know and be known; serve and be served. Actively participate in the primary practices of the church.
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24)
Seek personal spiritual guidance. This places you in a position to learn and receive from others. This cultivates humility. Seek both formal and informal guidance from pastors, mentors, friends, family and others. Ask questions. Be curious. Look to learn.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)
Offer personal spiritual guidance. This allows you to go deeper into what you have learned by sharing it with another person. This cultivates humility by turning focus away from self. Give what you have received; teach what you have learned. Also, communicate limitations.
What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)
Live in genuine relationships. Be present to those around you. Seek emotional awareness. Aspire to mutuality and reciprocity. Be vulnerable. Confess sin. Tell stories. Speak up. Listen closely. Lovingly pursue. Invite feedback. Weep and rejoice.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:9-10)
Love the Lord your God with all your soul:
Rhythms of liturgy and devotion.
Pray. Integrate freedom and form into daily prayers. Make prayer tangible through speaking, writing, singing, or playing an instrument. Free prayer is spontaneous prayer from the heart usually concerning immediate and/or personal matters. Form prayer is prayer that is guided by a prayer list, a prayer manual, or another traditional form of prayer. Some examples and resources include: intercessory prayer lists, The Divine Hours, RCL prayers, Book of Common Prayer, Psalms and other scriptures, centering prayer, church order of worship, newspaper and current events. Pray with others.
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. (Psalm 62:8)
Read. Daily read and meditate on scripture. Read with both the mind and the heart. Read with others either locally (through participation in a bible study) or globally (through use of a lectionary). Examples include: reading passages from the weekly sermon at church, using the Revised Common Lectionary, passages that relate to current events and issues, spontaneous study and reflection.
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul… (Psalm 19:7-11)
Write. Keep a journal for written prayer, scripture commentary, and general reflection. This is a way of recording your story and tracking growth. Take time to occasionally read through old journal entries and prayerfully thank God for the ways that he has answered past prayer and brought growth and maturity.
I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. (Psalm 77:11-12)
Practice. In keeping with the liturgical calendar, incorporate practices of the current season as a way of remaining connected to the global and historical church as well as a way of following the story of Jesus in the gospels. Examples include: seasonal hymns and music, devotional readings, Advent candle-lighting, Christmastide gift-giving, Lenten fasting. Continue learning about old traditions and searching for new practices to incorporate into each season.
Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. (Exodus 23:14)
You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. (Deuteronomy 16:14)
Love the Lord your God with all your mind:
Rhythms of study and reflection.
Listen. Learn from the voices around you through conversation, discussion, reading, and participating in educational activities. Keep a variety of conversation partners both within and outside of the church and the realm of theology and spirituality. Seek a well rounded thought-life through continued education in and out of school. Read books, watch documentaries, pay attention to the news and current events. Stay informed.
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Speak. In conversation, also share your perspective. Work to articulate your thoughts and put them into words. Teach what you are learning. This can be through formal classes, informal conversations, blog entries, and social media engagement. The work of articulation helps to refine the mind and allows your thoughts to be scrutinized by others.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
Reflect. After periods of listening and speaking (learning and teaching) let the mind rest by reflecting on each of those interactions. Let concepts take root. Take time to become aware of and evaluate overarching thought structures. Sometimes simple stillness and silence can allow for this. Other times meditative practices such as the Examen can provide more structure.
Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
Love the Lord your God with all your strength:
Rhythms of activity and location.
Work. Devote yourself to good hearted productive work through a job, school, or volunteer activities. Do each of these with joy. Also remain physically active either through regular activities or exercise.
Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
Play. Use leisure time for play. This can include creative expression through writing and music, developing further hobbies, going on walks, taking adventures to new places, and taking time to notice the small things. Play allows space for simple fun, increases childlike enchantment, and opens up vulnerability.
Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. (Mark 10:14-15)
Rest. Rest is found in adequate sleep, good and healthy food, and intentional times to refrain from working and even playing. These are times to cultivate humility by affirming that God is in control and seeing that when our labors cease, the world carries on.
The people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. (Exodus 31:16-17)
Give. Give the resources of time and money to love and serve others through service in church, openness to strangers, generosity toward others, and financially giving what you are able. Using the tithe as a potential starting point, discern what is possible to give financially during any particular season of life. Give both to church, to charities, to missionaries, and to individuals as you are moved.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:7-8)