For my spiritual formation class in the Fall, our final paper was to create a rule of life for ourselves. Common among monastic communities (see The Rule of St. Benedict, et al), a rule of life defines the spiritual practices that guide one’s life. I wrote mine thinking about the type of church community I want to foster and be a part of. It is a rough draft—a first word into the conversation that I hope to have with those I shape a church community with.
I have many questions about the idea of “church membership.” It seems to be a rather recent (and, perhaps, uniquely western?) category for the church. Isn’t baptism the distinguishing mark of entrance into the Jesus community? Does baptism not make membership superfluous—divisive even—to the Creed’s assent to one holy catholic (universal) church? Maybe. Maybe not. The point I want to make here is that the way membership seems so often to be determined is as a litmus test of orthodoxy. Obviously, to say that belief is important is an understatement. But orthodoxy that is devoid of orthopraxy—right belief devoid of right practice—robs a believing community of the gospel’s incarnate power. Our beliefs must become flesh and blood and express themselves in real life. As Eugene Peterson paraphrases: The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.
The “Rule of Life” exercise gave me a new way to think about the possibilities of church membership (though I’m clearly not convinced of the helpfulness of “membership” terminology). What if membership (or adherence to a rule of life) helps shape the practices of the community instead of simply defining the parameters of belief?
These dreams and questions feel like the first steps of journey I hope to take with others. I envision the rule will become more specific as others add their voices to the process. What would you add/take away/expand/etc…?
First Steps on a Shared Journey
There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” Though it is possible for a rule of life to be a set of personal and private disciplines, living a shared Rule in community offers the support and encouragement that is necessary to sustain thriving spiritual practices. For example, the Northumbria Community are not necessarily connected geographically but are connected “because [they] live close to [their] chosen way of living.” Martin Luther King Jr. developed a Rule specifically for the civil rights protesters in Birmingham. For the scattered followers of the Northumbria Rule as well as the Birmingham protestors marching arm-in-arm, the solidarity that community creates is what makes their spiritual disciplines sustainable.
Though the “Rule of Life” terminology is new to me, the idea I have actually been dwelling on for some time. As I have dreamt about the church community I hope to be a part of shepherding, I realize now that I have been, in essence, working out a Rule of Life for a church. I want to be part of a community that sees “the church” not as a building or a religious organization, but as a community, the ecclesia—the “called out ones.” And so in that spirit, this Rule of Life bears in mind its communal livability.
For this reason, my Rule of Life that I offer here is a work in progress, not only because it will require me to test it and live it out, but also because I want it to be further shaped and molded within my community. I want others to join me in practicing communal spirituality, and so I need their voices and their presence in the working out of this Rule.
I offer the following Rule Of Life as set of commitments for my community and myself:
Commitment to love of God. This is the first and greatest command. The Rule of Life is primarily concerned with what it means to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. As my affections, my very being, my thoughts, and my actions are constantly submitted to the work of the Spirit, I grow in my capacity to love God and fulfill the great commandment.
Commitment to love of neighbor. This is a wide reaching command. It concerns our literal neighbor as well as the entire human race—especially our “enemy” and the vulnerable and needy (as Jesus’ teaching explains in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10). Being a good neighbor means sacrificially loving my family, being present with my literal neighbors, and working for peace globally.
Commitment to Scripture. “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89) My Rule of Life seeks to embody a commitment to Scripture as it is taught and meditated on daily. Personal mediation on Scripture, reading the Bible with my family, and scripture reading in the larger church community are to be regular rhythms.
Commitment to Prayer. Prayer professes allegiance to a kingdom that is not of this world. Prayer announces my dependence upon God. I commit to listening and speaking continually with God in prayer and embodying prayer beyond words as my community, my family, and I press into the presence of the Holy One.
Commitment to the Eucharist. The Rule of Life envisions a sacramental community—observing the Eucharist in remembrance of the Lord, proclaiming Jesus’ death until he comes, examining our hearts as God builds up his body, the church. The Eucharist is to be observed regularly and reverently.
Commitment to Ecumenical Unity. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3) The Rule celebrates the diverse streams and the many rich traditions within the Christian faith. Instead of viewing other denominations with suspicion or judgments of apostasy, let us approach the church’s diversity with curiosity and humility—celebrating the best that each expression has to offer and working to find unity as we submit to “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6)
Commitment to the Church Calendar. The Rule of Life adheres to the celebration of the lectionary and Church Calendar. The Calendar is itself a kind of rule of life—grounding the church in telling the story of God. It creates regular rhythms of fasting and feasting—waiting and celebrating. It binds the church horizontally with Christian communities across the world and historically with church practice throughout the ages. In many ways, the calendar sets the foundation for the expression of all the other Commitments in this Rule.
Commitment to the Creative Task. Part of being a bearer of the imago dei is being a co-creator with God. We are to practice and celebrate creativity as an act of worship of the creator. I find some of my deepest connection with God in the devotional practice of writing worship music. Composing, performing, displaying, and celebrating music and other art forms will be an integral part of a healthy Rule of Life for me and for my community.
Commitment to Sabbath Rest. We live in a busy, anxious, and noisy world. Sabbath rest calls us away to hear the still, small voice of God. Sabbath rest reminds us that our worth is not determined by how much we produce. The Rule of Life invites my community into the Sabbath rhythm of six and one, taking steps to create space in which we find rest for our souls.
Commitment to Spiritual Practices. Orthopraxy, in relationship with orthodoxy, is to be the mark of spiritual health. Belief without practice—faith without works—is dead, and so disciplines such as generous giving, fasting, feasting, lectio, contemplation, pilgrimage/retreat, as well as the other explicit practices listed in this Rule will help provide life-giving paths for our spiritual walk.
This Rule of Life is intended to offer an easy yoke and a light burden. It requires discipline, but it also must not be legalistic. This rule of life is not a new law but a road map—a way—that we follow in the hopes of seeing glimpses of the kingdom of God. The Rule is not our salvation, but may it help me and others work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
I offer this Rule of Life with great hope for myself and for my faith community. May it be the first step on a shared journey into God’s grace and kingdom. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So, what am I missing? What would you add/take away/etc…?