How do I live a Rule of Life?
Take your everyday, ordinary sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops maturity in you.
ROMANS 12:1-2 THE MESSAGE
“We must get ready then— heart, mind, and spirit— for the great struggle of learning to listen to God's word. For what we cannot do in our own strength, let's ask the Master for the help of his grace. If we want to find the life that's really life (and not simply a way of postponing death), then let's run on while there's still time to accomplish these things by the light of life. Let's start to do now those things that will benefit us forever. This is why we want to establish a school for the Lord's service. In drawing up its code of conduct, we hope to avoid anything harsh or burdensome.” - Rule of St. Benedict
When Benedict of Nursia penned these words in the 5th century, he did so in a world that was rapidly changing. As the Roman Empire crumbled around him, he saw that the needs of Christian Communities were also changing. The methods that had educated Christians for several hundred years were no longer effective and something different, a “new school” was needed.
Benedict’s Rule, although sometimes seemingly strict and authoritarian by our modern standards, was remarkably egalitarian and gentle by the standards of his day. It encouraged careful care of the sick, elderly, and children and laid out ways to air grievances that were foreign to the feudal culture. When he wrote it, the Rule was a way to take the treasures of Christianity and make them into something new in response to cultural changes in the world about him. The Rule became the baseline for Western Monasticism, and was in itself adapted over centuries by various communities to suit the needs of their time. Many writers have remarked how the spirit of Benedictine communities suffuses the ethos of Anglicanism, as the Benedictines were influential in England before the English Reformation.
We face a changing world. Things seem to change at the rate of Moore’s Law. The edifice of Christendom, which has governed us as Westerners for around 1500 years is collapsing. The American ways of doing church developed around the automobile and near universal attendance that have informed our identity over the last fifty years are becoming a thing of the past. Like Benedict, we face the challenge of taking what is good and seemly from the Christian past and forming our Christian communities for the present.
What has not changed since Benedict’s time is the need for communities to have boundaries. Boundaries often get a bad reputation in our modern culture, but they are necessary for any sort of a community to form. Communities, whether fraternal orders or teams or political parties, need boundaries in order to have an identity. They are neither positive nor negative in themselves, they are simply a part of being human. The thing that makes boundaries have a moral orientation is how permeable they are. Any group that cuts itself off completely from the outside world through its boundaries sets itself up for dysfunction and abuse. Any group that has no boundaries finds it impossible to stay together over a long stretch of time. A Christian community should be a kind of castle with walls to define the edge of the community. But it should have no moat, no gate, no portcullis. It should have an open portal through which outsiders can become insiders, and through which insiders step outside to serve in Jesus’ name.
In the times in which we find ourselves, our churches have become geographically and demographically diverse. Time has become a more precious commodity as more families include two wage-earners and parents are pulled in a million directions by children’s activities. We long for things to unify us and give us a sense of community, but we have individual needs that require flexibility and forgiveness. A rule of life, of which Benedict’s Rule is but one example, is a way to form community through common practice.
A rule of life is something that should challenge and stretch us. But as Benedict observes, it should not be harsh or burdensome. It should be a plumb line by which we can measure our lives, not a weight that bears us down when we fail to live up to it, as we all do at one time or another. A good rule of life is one that allows us to acknowledge our interdependence, live into the Baptismal Covenant, grow in our relationship with God and each other, and go into the world to do ministry in Christ’s name.
No one should be set up to fail. Everyone should strive for a rule of life that is livable. In each of the four sections of the rule, there are practices of varying degrees. Choose things that will challenge you, but will bring you fulfillment rather than frustration.
Second, this is "A Castle with No Gate," an imaginative way of thinking about a Rule of Life that is embedded in a stewardship program.