Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Rule of Life (Part 1)

With this year's Lenten campaigns -- "give it up for Lent" and "Fastbook" (fasting from Facebook), to name two -- frequenting my Facebook feed and probably yours too, I've been thinking and praying about what I might do for Lent that would be more than a self-help project or the liturgical equivalent of a New Year's resolution.  

(I should say at this point that I do think it's a good thing that Advent and Lent are beginning to receive broader attention within the church; I'm just concerned that this will prove faddish, that each season will be sucked in by the marketing power of the not-so-holidays that Christmas and Easter have become.  But I digress.  Obviously.)

What I've arrived at is to set a rule of life.  This is a practice from the ancient church, one most of us associate (maybe too much so) with the monastic tradition, partly because that's where the most famous examples are found, as in the Benedictine Rule or the Franciscan Rule.  Simply put, whether folks were living apart for Jesus as hermits or in community, they needed rules in place to make sure their lives were consistently pointing in Jesus' direction.

As interest in missional living and monastic practice grows here in Hamilton (see my article for TrueCity about one such local initiative, here) and other places in North America, the construction of a rule of life is becoming more popular, too.  And if I want to assemble a rule of life (both individually and with Karen) during Lent, I need to read a little bit more of what's being written on such rule formation these days.  But for the moment, I'm still chewing on what a text from a course in my master's program has to say, as it places the rule in the context of systematic theology.  Simon Chan (not to be confused with the current bestseller, Francis Chan), in his Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life (IVP, 1998), writes, "Embracing a rule of life means allowing our lives to be reconstituted by this new pattern...a rule does not mean that a greater part of our time is taken up with performing religious duties. Rather, the rhythm that a good rule establishes helps us maintain our spiritual focus" (190-91).  Chan has lots of other good stuff to say about discerning a personal and a "common" (communal) rule; as I've read here and elsewhere that part of rule formation is determining which spiritual disciplines are (or should be) primary in one's life, the one other quote I'll cite right now falls under Chan's thoughts on "Guidelines for spiritual reading" as a discipline.  In response to common neglect of the habit of careful, meditative reading skills, he argues that the church "could be a vital re-forming agent, but it has to re-create itself as a reading-listening community" (162-63).  That resonates, in part because of potential ministry some plans that Karen and I are praying through.  And I will let that and other thoughts resonate as we continue through Lent.  My first instinct is to say that helping the church to "re-create itself as a reading-listening community" describes two of the disciplines that I already know that I need to recognize as core values in my Rule: study and hospitality.  But we'll see what some more prayer produces on this Lenten journey.

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