What is Your Rule of Life?

We all have one. Even if we don’t call it a “rule” we all have an ethos and a pattern that shapes our day. Now of course there are formal “rules” like Benedict’s rule for his monastic order, click which had specific rules and expectations for its members, cialis and while these rules may seem legalistic and harsh (e.g., at least two references to the use and benefit of corporal punishment), they are not designed to be punitive, but are instead meant to be tools to assist the community to conform and be transformed to Christ’s image.

It’s our pattern or structure to how we live life. It is our boundaries for what we do and don’t do, and sometimes even includes measures for if we fail to do what we should. It can include practical things like, when do you read Scripture or do devotions? Do you do it in the morning or in the evening? Do you follow a specific “how to read the Bible in a year” program? Do you follow the Daily Office? When and how do you pray? Do you pray in the morning before you start your day? Do you go somewhere specific to pray or do you pray as you go about doing the dishes? What activities do you do in the life of the church? Do you attend a bible study or a small group? Do you gather with others to intercede for the people in your church? Do you regularly go to church? How do you participate in the corporate worship? How do you participate in the Great Commission of Christ? Do you engage in evangelism, support missionaries or go on mission trips? Do you regularly tithe? Do you practice fasting and how often?

The purpose in specifically thinking about our rule of life is to not only identify gaps but also to consider how what we do (or don’t do) shapes what our beliefs, our character and our identity as disciples of Jesus. It’s not about being legalistic, as if doing these works will save us or justify us before God. Instead, doing these patterns or rhythms are a way to respond to the saving work of Christ, to participate in the work and task He has called us to, and to testify to the power of the Holy Spirit who works in and through our lives.

Now saying all of that, I need to be honest. I wish I could say that I currently have a rule of life. But this semester is one in which I am operating in survival-mode only. My only rule at the moment is to survive until Christmas and to go to church every Sunday. But I know that this semester is only a season. In fact, up until this year I had a rule of life (even though it wasn’t called that), or a structure and rhythm to my spiritual growth. It will need to be tweaked as I enter the new year and a new season. It will not be survival-mode, because I know that I need and thrive under structure rather than chaos.

As I try to articulate my rule of life for the new year, the question that needs to be answered is, “how will I balance family, school, life, my family’s walk with God, and my own personal walk with God?”

Currently, at the dinner table, we adapt the BAS Evening Prayer to create a time of family devotion. The rhythm of that mirrors the rhythm of Sunday worship, and it has helped my three-year old to understand what happens at church. Every evening as we sing the Lord’s Prayer, the three-year old announces, “I sing that song at ‘talk to Jesus!” Come the new year, I would like to begin to incorporate the BAS morning prayer into my routine as a way to start my day. It will probably only be on days that I’m working in the library, and I hope to make it the first thing I do before I turn on my laptop and begin answering emails or working on schoolwork. One of the things that I am missing and need to find a way to better incorporate into a rule of life, is finding a way to carve out space to listen to and to sing worship music. Before moving to Saskatchewan I used to sit at the piano and play through worship songs for about half an hour every day (part of this was because I had been serving as a worship pastor). Since moving here I haven’t touched my piano except to dust it (and even that doesn’t happen as often as it should). That emotional-expressive component of my spiritual life has taken a back seat to the more cognitive, word/study based component of my spiritual life.

As for church life, I am and hope to continue to be active in the ministry role of “crucifer/server.” As well, I will continue to be on the list of “readers” who read the appointed Scripture passages as assigned. At the moment, those two activities keep me busy enough in the life of St. Aidan. One of the things that is profoundly shaping my spiritual development is the fact that we take communion weekly at St. Aidan. I still haven’t been able to find the words to articulate how exactly it is shaping me, but the rhythm of gathering with my family at the front and taking communion together has become important. So much so, that in the brief times when communion is not served (e.g., when we celebrate Morning Prayer instead of Eucharist), my soul feels hungry and even a little bit restless.

In my time at seminary, there have been three components that have been vital to my spiritual development. First, taking classes in a modular format is a great way for me to devote significant time in a focused way to learning about Jesus. There is something powerful about sitting in a classroom with others who are just as eager to learn. The bonds that develop in the intensity of a week-long class help to profoundly shape not only my “cognitive” knowledge of Christ, but also my “experiential” knowledge of Christ. Second, one of the first opportunities I had to plug into life in Caronport was joining the Karl Barth reading group. This group of students, pastors and laypeople meets Friday mornings to discuss short passages of Barth’s Church Dogmatics. It is also a time for prayer and a brief reflection on Scripture. While I have had to step away from this group this semester, my plan is to resume participation in January when my schedule becomes a little more flexible. Third, the St. Aidan cohort at Briercrest has been an amazing blessing. The mini-community of Anglicans at Briercrest is in some ways almost a small group or cell group. The ability to meet for coffee with one or more St. Aidanite, or even just to encourage one another in passing has been a source of grace.

While not directly related to spiritual growth, one of the things that I have been working on this semester, and hopefully will continue through the year is carving out specific time for my husband and I to have “us” time. This may mean going on a date, or just hanging out, but it is regular, weekly time for us to spend time together without the distractions of the kids or work or school. Thankfully, college students are able to fulfill their service learning requirements by doing free babysitting, and we have begun to take advantage of that by having regular Tuesday night dates. It is a time not only for us to rest, but also for us to edify and encourage each other in our vocational calls, and to even sometimes dream together about our future hopes and plans. (Or, to not do any of that but instead to just focus on how to slaughter the other person in a cut-throat game of Settlers of Catan!)

Some Thoughts on Spiritual Formation

 Spiritual formation is more than just formation of the soul or spiriti; it is the formation of the whole person. It is not just about shaping what we believe, stuff or how we think. While it most certainly includes these, spiritual formation shapes the actions, posture and whole being of a Christian so that her life and entire being become molded in the image of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, spiritual formation means that Christians are going to look and act differently than the world around them. In the words of St. Benedict, “Your way acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.” After having taken a class on Spiritual Formation, I want to suggest four common themes that are foundational to a spirit-formed life.

Community:

While there is indeed a place and a need for individual reflection, spiritual formation is cultivated in and through the community of believers. It is in living this “life together”(Dietrich Bonhoeffer) that our attitudes and postures are shaped and conformed to the image of Christ. The community is built on the person and work of Christ. This means that true community is found only in and through Christ. In each culture and age, the community may take on specific traits and rules that guide the mission and structure of the community. Thus, Benedict’s monastic order had specific rules and expectations for its members, and while they may seem legalistic and harsh (e.g., at least two references to the use and benefit of corporal punishment) they are not designed to be punitive, but are instead meant to be tools to assist the community to conform and be transformed to Christ’s image. Indeed, whether it be St. Benedict’s monastic order, Bonhoeffer’s enclave of seminarians, or James K.A. Smith’s vision of Christian higher education, the role of community is one that embodies the Great Commandment: to love God and to love each other. This ethos that is shared and encouraged shapes not only the community but also each individual within the community. Community is where spiritual formation takes place.

Confession:

In the introduction to Augustine’s Confessions, translator Maria Boulding notes that confession has three levels: there is the confession of sin, which is most prominent, the confession of God’s glory, and the confession that it is God who enables us to make confession in the first place. Augustine’s entire life is a confession to God, and an act of testifying to the goodness and rightness of God’s justice and mercy, both in his sinful life before his conversion, and in his life after conversion. Augustine’s confession exposes the reality of his sinfulness: “To you, then, Lord, I lie exposed, exactly as I am…My confession to you is not made with words of tongue and voice, but with the words of my soul and the clamor of my thought.”

This practice of confession may have fallen out of favour with Protestants in light of Catholic misuse and abuse, but Bonhoeffer and his seminary students, who were Lutheran, adopted a form of confession as part of their spiritual formation. Bonhoeffer writes that the act of confessions leads to four breakthroughs: a breakthrough to community, a breakthrough to the cross, a breakthrough to new life, and a breakthrough to assurance. Confession of sin includes confession of both personal and corporate sins, and the act of confession is profoundly counter-cultural, particularly in the modern, secular world that encourages the deflection and/or minimization of guilt (see Smith, 177-181). James K.A. Smith highlights the role of confession in the liturgy of the Church, specifically pointing to the prayer of confession in the Anglican tradition, noting that in the act of confession, “we are honest with God about our transgressions and agree with God that they are violations of his law.” The act of confession is not just words, it is also a posture and a way of life.

Contemplation:

The act of meditating, praying through, and reflecting on Scripture is foundational to the life devoted to spiritual formation. As part of his confession, Augustine contemplates the mighty works of God in heaven and earth. Benedict devotes a significant portion of his rule to the structure and space for the study of the Word, as he outlines the practice of the daily office, and morning and evening prayer. Bonhoeffer emphasized the practice of meditation, which appears to have caused discomfort for several of the seminarians. N.T. Wright notes that reading and meditating on Scripture is habit-forming in that “the more you do it the more it will form the habits of mind and heart, of soul and body, which will slowly but surely form your character into the likeness of Jesus Christ.”

Included under the heading of contemplation is also the practice of worship, though in actuality, worship could and should properly be discussed under each element of spiritual formation, as it is done in the context of community (see Wright and Benedict), is at the heart of the act of confession (Augustine), is structured by the story of Scripture (Smith) and assists in the cultivation of virtue (Wright). An entire paper could just be written on the function of worship in spiritual formation, but suffice to say, worship is an embodied act that points to the fact that what we love is what we worship.

Cultivation of the Virtues:

As N.T. Wright notes, the Christian life does not stop once we have prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer”, given our life to Jesus, been baptized or any other rite of initiation into the life of Christianity. The over-emphasis on conversion means that Christianity can (and has) been reduced to act of intellectual consent, with little thought to the embodied reality not only of human existence, but also of the life of Christian discipleship. The cultivation of the virtues is the practical outworking of the doctrine of sanctification. It is a life-long process in which the Christian actively participates in the ongoing work of God in their life, the life of the Church, and in the world. The cultivation of the virtues is the formation of habits, so that the practice of a specific virtue becomes “second nature”, wherein the Christian does not have to consciously think about how and why he has to act, but does it automatically.[Footnote] While the list of Christian virtues may vary by theologian or tradition, the three core virtues that form the Christian life are faith, hope, and love.