In a World of Unrest, a Rule of Life is a Sheltering and Sustaining Place

"A good rule of life is not a complicated how-to manual, but a sheltering and sustaining place." Margaret Guenther

Our world is more stressful and uneasy in these last six months than we care to admit. Now, with layered tensions from Covid-19, being isolated from one another longer than anyone thought possible, racial injustices and protests, and the start of schools and welcome routines of fall being delayed again, we are wondering more than ever what is it we do?, who are we in this new cultural climate?, what does it look like to be a citizen of this pandemic world?, of God's kingdom?, what are our priorities? What kind of place is sheltering and sustaining?

We have always been in search of a place to belong, to find a place where we live the life we were created to live. Certainly, we try to make our everyday home such a place. But we also have places we have visited or places we return to again and again because something about it or what we do when we're there speaks to us in deep inside. Often, it is a place of our childhood summers or family vacations with our own children.

Do you have a favorite place where you like to go for adventure, prayer, resting and restoring your soul? A place where you can feel your kaleidoscope of feelings, bring them into God's sanctuary, restore your perspective, and discern what's next in your life? Is it a coastline, mountain, high cliff, canyon, farm, city park, museum, favorite city, or perhaps a river, lake, or campground?

Wendell Berry had Lane's Landing, his Kentucky field and farm. Mary Oliver had her turtled ponds. Anne Morrow Lingbergh had her Atlantic coastline. I have my own places that have brought me life - Malibu Young Life Camp, Cannon Beach, Carmel by the Sea, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a cabin in the woods in eastern Oregon.

These places all make the soul bell ring more clearly in the chapel of my heart. A cabin in the woods is a place I keep returning to because it reminds me of the purpose, possibilities, and pace of my life in God's unshakable kingdom.

These places all make the soul bell ring more clearly in the chapel of my heart. A cabin in the woods is a place I keep returning to because it reminds me of the purpose, possibilities, and pace of my life in God's unshakable kingdom.  Terri Conlin

In contrast to the loud and hurried world, this little cabin is a quiet, secluded, unhurried, peaceful, fine place to think long uninterrupted thoughts, take prayer-walk dusty trails, and truly see the spangled stars. It is a place I give myself plenty of freedom to swing in a hammock, watch the rain from the porch, ride a mountain bike into town for a homemade bagel, kayak on a mountain lake, hike a rocky butte, and pick wildflowers to fill several mason jars.

In this place, I have sat still enough, long enough to notice a baby owl perched in the porch rafters, butterflies and chipmunks frolicking in the lupines, hawks circling the clouds, and a wild turkey family out for a Sunday stroll. This piney spot is a place I connect naturally and deeply with Jesus. You might say it is the person and not the place that I am after. You'd be right.

Still, I begin with a place that nourishes qualities I want to embody in my everyday life. It holds the rhythms I crave flowing into and out of my life with God and so it is to be considered as I craft my own Rule of Life.

If that phrase is new to you, it might help to know that St. Benedict's "Little Rule of Life" (circa 529 AD) was written as 'simply a handbook to make the very radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in daily life'.  I describe a Rule of Life as a wisdom way of living a God-shaped life in Christ alongside community contributing to a flourishing world.

"A Rule of Life is a wisdom way of living a God-shaped life in Christ alongside community contributing to a flourishing world."

Practically speaking, a Rule of Life is a way of scheduling soul-keeping priorities into your days, weeks, months and years. But, it is so much more than a to-do list or even soul-care as self-help forgetting Jesus is the center of all true life. It is intentional living with God's bright and beautiful kingdom stirring in our hearts.

In his book, "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places", Eugene Peterson reminds us to beware of forgetting our theology deeply rooted in Christ or we will "end up isolated from any awareness of the grand and spacious God horizons, the truly vast landscape in which we are invited to live out the Christian life."  

To describe my Rule as a favorite place where my soul can breathe deeply and I can see more clearly "the grand and spacious God horizons" helps me name qualities to embody in my everyday life. Perhaps if I tell you about one such place and how it shapes me long after I am home again, you can explore your own Rule of Life as a place - "a truly vast landscape in which you are invited to live out the Christian life".

It takes a series of leavings to arrive – everyday life, bottle neck of traffic, freeway farmlands, rolling hills of hay and clover, one red barn in a patchwork landscape, and the Santiam mountain pass. We carve into the mountain near Big Cliff Dam and cut through the sharp black lava fields bordered by lily pad ponds I imagine walking across in a believing moment.

I am already smiling before we leave the mountain’s shadow and melancholy matchstick trees from an old burn. My heart stirs and releases bubbles from the murky water beneath those lily pads. Hawks in wingspan circle overhead. In the summertime I roll down my window and hear their cry. With my face turned toward the changing light, I ride the wind with the palm of my hand.

On the outskirts of the small western town, I say hello to cows grazing in a sunny field against a ring of mountains. As we turn off the paved road, leaving clouds of terra-cotta dust in our wake, even in the kicked up dirt, I sense clarity is near. And where clarity resides direction is born.

We tumble out of the car, stretch our legs, and breathe in Ponderosa pine mixed with Douglas fir and a hint of juniper. Queen Anne Lace, lupines, and tall grasses tickle my ankles. Sometimes the wind cools my dusty ankles. Looking up through spires, the treetops sway like scrub brushes scouring the sky.

I drink in this log cabin nestled in the piney woods – a wide front porch where I watch chipmunks skitter over boulders, a hammock stretched between two trees, and a writing desk in the dormer window upstairs - and realize it reminds me of the life I long to live in Christ. What is stopping me? I might tell you responsibilities, the fast-paced world, work, or worries.

But in a quiet moment, I know that the life I desire to live with God can happen no matter where I am. Getting away helps me to name my desires, but I don't need to get away from my everyday life to delight in God's woo. My God-shaped life can be lived in the chapel of my heart. Learning to envision my Rule of Life as a landscape helps me nurture and express my friendship with Jesus and my way in the world in the intentional rhythms of ordinary life.

Consider these descriptions of intimacies with God as landscapes. Adam and Eve had a bountiful garden where God walked with them in the cool of the day. David wrote of his relationship with the Good Shepherd as a journey through spacious fields near still waters even in dark valleys. Moses wrote of a burning bush in a lonely wilderness. Deborah describes a wide, shady tree where people met together for God's wisdom and she became a warrior mother for God's people.

My Rule of Life is beginning to come into view as a place where I take my time enjoying my people, light streaming in through the window, delighting in God's magnificent creation. It smells like pine and juniper and rain. I hear the justice cry of hawks riding the high winds. There is a porch and long table, wide and welcoming, an open invitation for people to sit a while and tell their stories. Rest is welcome, as is hard work, adventure, and creativity. It is a place to remember together our original design, our true size and value to our Artist God. There are trails to walk with the Spirit in sunshine, shade, and snow, lakes to paddle across, and mountains to climb.

I wonder how you would describe your Rule of Life as a God-horizon place? How do the qualities of such a place shape your friendship with Jesus, with your neighbors, and the world around you?

Porch in the Rain

This is part of a workshop called Patterns of Purpose to help you craft a Rule of Life. Creating Patterns of Purpose is not a one-and-done act. It is an evergreen endeavor done in loving relationship with the Trinity. To read more about crafting a Rule of Life, visit "What Goes into a Calendar of Grace"  and "5 Reasons Now is the Time to Craft a Rule of Life".

Here are several books to dig deeper into crafting a Rule of Life:

These are affiliate links which means you can click right on the image and shop from this curated list I've created for you. The book costs you the same and I receive a few pennies for being your personal librarian.