What is a Rule of Life?

Laura Norby, an Episcopal deacon who is part of our congregation, shared these words as part of the invitation to Lent on Sunday, February 7. 

I have a dear friend who has shared the spiritual journey with me for several decades. At some early point in our friendship, she said, “If Laura and I were presented with 2 doors, one which said ‘God’ and one which said ‘Reading About God’ we would choose the second door!  There was truth in her humor. We spent hours reading and talking about God. That’s a lot of time in the head.

These days I prefer the door which says ‘God’, because I want to BE in the presence of God.  Experiencing God happens in the heart. I believe that a Rule of Life can be a door which opens into God.  A Rule is a chosen spiritual practice or practices done regularly, ANY of which may be a means to help us open our hearts and become vulnerable to Love.

At the invitation to a Holy Lent, which will be spoken by Miranda to us on Ash Wednesday, we are halted in our tracks by words like self-examination, repentance, self-denial.  We have an unconscious negative reaction to words like rule and discipline.  We prefer words like freedom, liberation, and joy.  Part of my journey has been, and continues to be the surprising discovery that freedom and joy are the real fruits of those very practices of self-examination, repentance, rule and discipline. These words deserve some rethinking.

So here is a bit of my discovery of hidden treasure within these very old words from our Lenten tradition.  It is my experience of where the desire for a Rule begins.

I wake each morning and remember that God is God, Uncreated, a Mystery, and that each unique Created life is lived in God, including yours and mine.

I remember that I am one entity, one unity of body, mind, and spirit. No artificial divisions or priorities of body vs spirit or meditation vs activity. Changing the baby or the oil in the car is as important a place to be with God as sitting in prayer.  ALL life is lived in the here and now of God’s presence.

I try to remember that God lives through me to others, and through others to me. We are all connected in God’s Divine Web. When I am aware of this in both my heart and bones, I am moved, even compelled, to pray:  God, what does Your life look like in me?  Help me learn how to shape my life in thanksgiving for your revelation that we are all one in You. Teach me how to reorient my body, mind and spirit toward You!

In the Church we call these gift moments of awareness ‘conversion experiences’ and  this desire to reorient ourselves toward God ‘metanoia’. In actual experience, I call it WOW-I don’t know big enough words to call it by name! I can only say thank you, God, for planting the desire for You within me.

A longing for a pure heart, for communion with God, and for compassion for others is the birthplace of the call to a Rule of Life, a path to keep us headed toward the door which says God on it.  Any practice that we are drawn to may help us to live more open-heartedly and deeply present with God.  Practices of prayer and study can help us grow our trust in God’s love and forgiveness.  Repentance for our shortcomings, things done and left undone, and practices of self-denial become, not burdens, but gifts, invitations to accept forgiveness and recognize our complete dependence on God.

This isn’t about Lent. It’s about waking to God’s presence and action in us as created beings and followers of Jesus, who reveals God to us. It’s about finding the new life God offers in this moment.

But, it is also about Lent, the big ‘C’ Church’s season to meditate on Jesus’ journey and Jesus’ truth that a life completely given over to God is as close as we get to understanding Heaven while we’re here.  We pause in our busy lives to look at how our current path aligns with Jesus’ path. We intentionally look at particular behaviors where we know we can do better. We might intentionally take on an untried practice, like fasting, tithing, or study to see if they shine new light on our path.  The Church calls these practices ‘disciplines’ and ‘vows.’  I call them signs and lights and boundaries on the path from which I have no desire to stray, but often do.

Lent is bound to have somber moments if we choose to examine our own growth in Christ. Nobody’s perfect. Those moments should not overwhelm us. Recognizing that we don’t always live up to our own or others’ expectations as Jesus’ followers is the very process that shapes and molds us for good.  Our Rule of Life encourages us to see this working of God in us, as well as to see that love and forgiveness are always the low hanging fruit on the path. Taste them.  See that the Lord is good.

So I encourage you to build and grow your Rule of Life for Lent and beyond. Engage with any practice that seems to you to spring from joy and love, and then set to work on it with faith and obedience.  When you fall short, return to it. Wherever your Rule takes you, God is already there.  Most importantly, remember that whatever shape your Rule takes is good and meaningful and holy.

Have a Blessed Lent.