Exploring a Rule of Life

Jesus said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15.5)

What is a rule of life?

Everyone lives by some kind of ‘rule’ – a set of practices or habits they return to each day, even if these have never been articulated as a ‘rule’. Indeed, without a rhythm and structure to daily life, it is hard to sustain a coherent sense of identity.

In recent years, there has been a recovery of the monastic tradition of a ‘rule of life’ for daily discipleship. In a world where speed, hurry and busyness threaten to overwhelm even the best intentions, we need to step back and think through how we are going to bear fruit as disciples of Jesus, in our frontline situations. Saint Benedict (487 – 547) has perhaps been the ‘patron saint’ of this recovery. He created a rule to enable initiates into his communities to discover the presence of God in daily life, and to find in the community as in a ‘school of love’. Fr. Christopher Jamieson, the former Abbot of Worth Abbey, recently brought the ancient practices of the Benedictine way to a wider audience. The Diocese of Winchester has recently dug into its own Benedictine past to offer a resource for parishes. And the new community of St. Anselm based at Lambeth Palace offers its residents a simple rule to live by.

This post is a ‘starter-for-10’ based on a practical workbook on creating a personal rule of life by the Japanese- Canadian church leader, Ken Shigematsu, called God in my Everything. His basic contention is that all followers of Christ can benefit from articulating and setting down a rule of life, and he goes on to offer a particular framework that many have found worth engaging with. He starts by suggesting that a helpful image for a rule of life is that of a trellis for a vine. Just as grapevines in the wild will seek out a structure – a tree or a rock – as a trellis, so we too all tend to seek out frameworks for living. But just as a vine needs pruning and supporting in order to grow upward and bear fruit, so our lives need pruning and supporting by a thought-out rule.

The trellis image comes of course from Jesus’ teaching about a fruitful vine in John’s Gospel. This is not of course an image which appears from nowhere. The language of growth and fruitfulness is deeply embedded in the Bible’s account of life with God. It’s obvious why. God is the source of all life and fruitfulness in the first place. And because we are made in the image of God, so we are called to be fruitful as God is: ‘Be fruitful, grow in number and fill the earth… ’Genesis 1.28 mandates us to build families, farms, communities and cultures…. The call of Israel is specifically understood in these terms, as a recovery of the fruitfulness lost through the Fall (Isaiah 5.1-5). So, in summary, as God’s people, we are meant to be fruitful, and the purpose of a rule or trellis is to enable that fruitfulness. Shigematsu’s suggested rule is based around picturing a trellis with vertical and horizontal staves. The vertical staves of the trellis which support the roots as well as keeping the whole thing together are the three key practices of Sabbath, Prayer and Hearing the Word (through ‘sacred reading’ of the Scriptures and reflection upon them). The three horizontal staves in ascending order are Relate, Restore and Reach Out, covering the elements of our lives. While a rule of life will be unique to each person, certain components will be common to all, as represented below.

Relate Restore Reach-Out
Friendship
Sexuality
Family
Body
Play
Money
Work
Justice
Witness

trellis

How to begin

Although this framework may add new practices to our lives, the point is not to clutter our life but to centre it in Christ. There are a number of guidelines to assist us in creating a realistic rhythm for daily life.
1. Start simply – which one area can I focus on at first?
2. Build slowly – beware of false resolutions!
3. Prune regularly – less is more. What needs to go?
4. ‘Go with the flow’ of our energy – when am I most attentive to God and others during the day?
5. Consider the season – of the year, and of your life
6. Be flexible – a rule is not an iron law but a means of God’s grace.
7. Remember fun – the chapter on play is particularly insightful!
8. Include others – spiritual growth is a communal task. It is best to share and regularly review your rule with another disciple.

The book offers a chapter on the three ‘root’ practices and a chapter on all nine components. It ends with a number of sample one-page ‘rules of life’, and it comes with the suggestion that we create our own simple rule, perhaps using an image to help. I commend it as a helpful framework for individuals and a useful resource for church leaders who are trying to offer practical options to enable people to build a resilient spiritual life, and to leave either the illusion of quick-fix faith or the cycle of overwork and burnout. Of course, there’s a big difference between shaping a personal rule of life, and engaging whole congregations in the process, but I’d be happy to chat with anyone thinking about how to get the message out in their ministry setting about the benefits of articulating a rule of life for discipleship.

Further reading

Finding Sanctuary: Monastic steps for Everyday Life – Christopher Jamieson
Spirituality Workbook: A Guide for Explorers, Pilgrims and Seekers – David Runcorn
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – Peter Scazzero
God in my Everything – Ken Shigematsu
Diocese of Winchester – Rule of Life Framework
Community of St Anselm – Rule of Life

Article written by Revd Matt Prior
Discipleship, Vocation and Ministry Team
October 2016

If anyone is interested in joining a group to explore this further then contact Alan – reverend.alan@gmail.com

 

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