Today is the eleventh day of Lent and Lent always orders me to order my life — again. Isn’t that what we do, put order back into our lives over and over again?
That’s what I do, because I have learned the wisdom of ducks. Even ducklings sometimes step out of the line behind a Mama duck who bids them to walk a straight line, single file!
Or even to swim in an ordered line! Something ducks are very good at!
For me, achieving a well-ordered life is a constant struggle, yet something I need and want. What do I mean by “ordered life?” I envision for myself a life that longs to move toward physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Especially spiritual well-being.
Perhaps I will turn to ducks for an inspiration to order my life or, even more compelling, perhaps I will turn to one of the streams of spirituality that comes from very deep in the Christian tradition — the wisdom of Benedictine Monasticism.
Now, stay with me! I’m not going out on a shaky spiritual limb.
Saint Benedict wrote his rule of life in the 6th century and thus left us with its simple and stable legacy of “Ora et Labora”: “Prayer and Work.” Today’s monasteries and convents still function under a Rule of Life, the best-known of which is that of Saint Benedict. A spiritual rule of life offers a fundamental rhythm for the balancing and ordering of life. Several years ago while seeking a deeper spiritual life, I entered into the novitiate of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans. In the process to full profession into the Order, I was asked to write a personal rule of life.
Rule of life? I had no idea where to start. Nor did I really know what a rule of life looked like! I found this definition from a very helpful website, “Sacred Ordinary Days.”
A rule of life is a commitment to live your life in a particular way. It is meant to be crafted with prayer and discernment, in partnership with God, as you consider the way God made you and the values God has inscribed upon your heart. Once written, it serves as a tool that can help you make decisions for your life and determine how best to order your days. A rule is different than the goals, intentions, or resolutions we tend to set for ourselves. Those methods are task-based and measurable, and they’re often focused on what we do. A rule of life, on the other hand, helps you become. It is comprised of several simple statements that guide the posture of your life and the living of your days. It is not lived perfectly but can be lived faithfully while fostering within you an integrated and embodied life of faith.
So, attentive to the lives of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi, I began discovering and creating my rule of life. What I learned in that experience is that crafting a rule of life is a spiritual discipline, whether I am writing, drawing, designing or graphing it. If you know me, you know that mine was handwritten because, for me, writing becomes the sigh of my soul. Once I began writing, I sensed a pull drawing me inward. The writing called me to open up my spirit to God in a deeper way and, from that place, to write down the ways I desired and intended to follow Christ and order my Christian life. In a nutshell, that’s what I discovered about a rule of life.
Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B., an American Benedictine nun, theologian, author and speaker, explains the idea of a rule of life more clearly in her writing about Saint Benedict’s Rule. She describes how the Rule of Benedict provides an opportunity for transformation for everyone who chooses to follow its wisdom.
All in all, the Rule of Benedict is designed for ordinary people who live ordinary lives. It was not written for priests or mystics or hermits or ascetics; it was written by a layman for laymen. It was written to provide a model of spiritual development for the average person who intends to live life beyond the superficial or the uncaring.
Benedict was quite precise about it all. Time was to be spent in prayer, in sacred reading, in work, and in community participation. In other words, it was to be spent on listening to the Word, on study, on making life better for others, and on community building. It was public as well as private; it was private as well as public. It was balanced. No one thing consumed the monastic’s life. No one thing got exaggerated out of all proportion to the other dimensions of life. No one thing absorbed the human spirit to the exclusion of every other. Life was made up of many facets and only together did they form a whole.
A rule of life is rooted in Scripture, pointing always to Christ; and, in the words of Saint Benedict, it is “simply a handbook to make the very radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in daily life.”
Lent is upon us. I don’t know about you, but I need to get my ducks in a row and, more importantly, I need to revisit the rule of life I wrote decades ago. I have a notion that, while my life has changed over the years, my rule of life hasn’t. But my need for genuine repentance is this: I don’t even remember my rule of life. What did I write? In what ways did I live it out? How many years or months or weeks did I live by it? Why is my rule of life now lost in a pile of old papers? I contritely confess that I remember (sort of) only this small part of it:
I will live my life and speak truth in the manner of love, for God is love
and, in Christ, I live and move and have my being.
I vaguely remember those words, but I intend look through my archived treasures and scraps of paper to find my rule of life and to revisit it. Maybe I will even begin living it again. From now on, I want to remember to remember it, so that its expressions will become like the air I breathe. And I will remember what Saint Benedict wrote 1,500 years ago, “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way. The love of Christ must come before all else.”
As for me, the one thing I do remember so strongly about the act of writing my rule of life is that I was on a spiritual retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a sacred place that made me imagine the lives of the desert mothers and fathers, the monastics who sparked spirituality for centuries. I also remember that, as I was writing, I would continually relive my ordination and its deep meaning for me. I continued to think and write on the day I had to finish, while the prayer of my heart and the longing of my soul continually whispered the same words sung at my ordination many years before:
Here I am, Lord. It is I, Lord. I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.
“Here I Am, Lord”
Daniel L. Schutte (b.1947)
Arranged by Ovid Young (1940-2014)
More Information on crafting your rule of life:
I found this website to be very helpful for people who want to craft a rule of life. Remember that your rule of life is for you, your way of enhancing your life and increasing your devotion to God. So every person’s rule will look different.