"The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it has established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild." G.K. Chesterton
Today, I read Psalm 114 which means we have been sheltering in place for a little more than 114 days. Back when I began reading a Psalm a day, it was a pattern I planned to repeat every 150 days. But none of us had any idea that we would still be sheltering in place more than 114 days later with no definite end in sight. We all want this pandemic to be over. In the meantime, we want to live with more purpose than waiting for the day Covid will be cured so we can return to normal.
A Rule of Life is always a good idea, but Covid has revealed our need for human connection, for new ways to mark our days without office hours or school days, and our seasons without graduations, vacations, and back to school. Our days and seasons are blurring one into the next. We are looking for patterns of purpose.
What is a Rule of Life? It is an ancient tradition for growing in Christ-likeness and building community in a Gospel way. The best known Rule of Life was written by St. Benedict in 540 AD and titled the "Little Rule for Beginners". It's first word was "Listen", it's purpose was joy.
It might help to give you a metaphor to hold on to. I've heard it described as an arbor or trellis for supporting and training a vine, a rustic rock wall bordering a garden, lovely patterns of farm-field rows, a butterfly net for catching dreams, a framework for freedom in living a God-shaped life. Put another way, it is the set of invisible grid lines behind an architectural drawing or graphic design. I like to call it a Pattern of Purpose.
Ultimately, creating a Pattern of Purpose is a way of living with intention and direction toward the person you already are in Christ and hope to be down here in God's good dirt.
Creating a Rule of Life seems more timely now than ever before. Here are five reasons why.
- We are already living by a rule of life.
What we do each day, week, or month might be dutiful, spontaneous, or intentional. Most likely, what we do is some combination of all of these at various times. The truth is, intentional or not, what we are living in the small minutes will eventually add up to our life.
Writer Annie Dillard says,
"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives . . . a schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands a section at a time."
Considering our life is happening while we do what is in front of us, I wonder if we want to live our life on purpose rather than let our life live us unaware?
2. We are living in uncertain times for longer than we imagined.
Creating a Rule of Life is good for any time, but none more than during times of prolonged uncertainty, disruption, loss of our familiar routines, traditions, and gatherings. During these stressful times, we need grace, spontaneity, and room to grieve our lost patterns intentionally set or not. We also new ways of doing what is important to us.
A Rule of Life is a process of discovering what is important to us both in our current season of life and also out on the far horizon of life, love, and work. We need life-giving patterns, the kind we were made for, to go beyond surviving this pandemic.
Underneath all of this uncertainty is the unshakable kingdom of God. We can help each other remember.
Psalm 90 reminds us, "Before the mountains were born, You are God."
3. We are the currently a scattered people.
We are made to be a gathered people, but currently we are scattered. Many of us are scattered in our work: working remotely, out of work, overworking, or just scattered in our brains. We might be separated from our people - faraway families, older parents, school friends. We might be missing our familiar gatherings: graduations, in-person church, summer camp, summer vacations, or family reunions.
We feel the losses adding up. Even as we adjust, modify our activities, and make the best of being scattered, we long to be gathered again. It is what we are made for. We can tell we are emptied out by isolation and fed by gatheirng is by how quickly we have figured out how to gather in online spaces to have dinner parties, celebrate birthdays, host baby showers, and worship our Creator God. It is not the same as face-to-face get togethers, but we cannot go without seeing faces, hearing voices, sharing laughter and being together.
The poet and Jesuit priest Gerald Manley Hopkins writes,
"Christ plays in ten thousand places,
lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
to the Father through the features of men's faces."
Creating a Rule of Life is not only for us. When we realize we are made to meet face-to-face and heart-to-heart and see Christ in ten thousand places, we realize we are all in life together. Living by a Pattern of Purpose personally and communally will benefit our families, our neighbors, our work, and the earth both while we are scattered and when we gather again.
4. We are beginning to ask good questions.
One benefit of staying home and clearing our schedules of so many away-from-home activities, is that we are beginning to know the people in our homes and neighborhoods in new ways. Our racial strife and injustice are opening our eyes to new neighbors we may not have seen before or tried to get to know.
We are asking good questions and sticking with them long enough to form an answer or take it to our Good Shepherd and wrestle it down.
Here are a few good questions I have heard:
• How are you organizing your new normal everyday life?
• What changes were welcome or necessary in this forced change of pace? What are you missing that needs to return?
• What/who is important to me right now? In the bigger picture of life?
• How do we care for ourselves, others, and the world?
• Who am I if I am not doing ______________ ?
• What is rest?
• What is school? (when, where, how often)
• What is church? (a place, a people, a service org)
• What is justice and how am I participating?
Part of asking good questions is cultivating good listening.
5. We are made for soulful patterns by a patterned God.
Have you ever noticed how patterned our God is? He is patterned within Himself with justice, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, generosity, holiness, creativity, eternity, beauty, joy, truth, work and rest, and the lovingkindness of relationship, just to name a few. God's universe is patterned with day and night, natures seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall, life and death and new life over all the earth, the rhythm of ocean tides, and all the mathematics behind music and space.
We, too, are patterned by God to require sleep and wakefulness, work and rest, company and solitude, joy and mourning, youth and aging, life and death and new life. Our bodies have a pattern of specific parts that come in all shapes and sizes. Even our faces have a set pattern of two eyes, one nose, two lips, and two ears. And yet, our God is so creative, even with a pattern of features, not a one of us is exactly the same. Even identical twins.
It strikes me as truest of true that God gifted us with order in an well-ordered world to "give room for good things to run wild". Jesus lived this way, so close to his Father that he could discern his steps as a human being. And now, especially during Covid, we can start building our arbor for a flourishing life rooted in Scripture and patterned after Jesus.
I am working on a project to help you create a Rule of Life for yourself or with a group of friends or leaders. I'm excited to bring it to you by fall. (It is in beta right now.)
In the meantime, I offer you a previous post called "Constructing a Calendar of Grace" that might get you thinking about your own Pattern of Purpose. And here are several books in affiliate links to read as you consider creating a Rule of Life.