Friday, December 3, 2010

the way of life

As my last assignment for this semester (besides studying for a Greek test on Tuesday), I was asked to compose a rule of life for my Christian Spiritual Formation class.

A rule of life, if you're not familiar with it, is a guiding set of principles for your life before God. Rules can be written by individuals, but they are also often written for communities of faith. While a rule of life usually does contain challenges as far as who you want to be and what you want to do, it is far from a set of New Year's resolutions. Rather it is a covenant with God in which you pledge yourself to a certain way of life.

Since it's a highly personal kind of thing, the rule and its contents can take any number of forms. As I began contemplating my own rule of life, what came to mind as a focusing concept was a quote from the Didache, which we just covered in Greek recently: "There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways." A rule of life, it seemed to me, should be something which describes and calls me to the way of life. And what better way to focus my life than on what Jesus calls the greatest commands: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else, Jesus says, hangs on these things.

So, as I began to write this rule of life, I chose to center it on those precepts, looking at a couple of different aspects of life (relationships, stewardship, ministry, etc.) through the lense of what it meant to love God, love my neighbor, and love myself. Though this was written basically in one sitting and could use some time for reflection before it is finalized (if it ever is), I wanted to share with you what I came up with as my rule of life. It's much more theoretical than some other people's are, but that seems to fit me, as I tend more towards focusing on habits of being rather than habits of doing. That may in some ways be a weakness of my rule, but I can also see it as a strength, enabling this rule to serve me for years and years to come because it lays solid foundations that can be further defined as specific situations arise. Anyway, enough talk already. The formatting's off a little (no lines should continue on to another line without being indented), but here it is. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

To this way of life I am consecrated:

to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

to love my neighbor.

to love myself.

For there is no commandment greater than these.

First established in flourishing relationship

with my creator, redeemer, and sustainer,

with my fellow sojourners in faith

and those who have chosen a different path,

with the unique image of God I carry within,

I give my fully alive self to the community of Father, Son, and Spirit, to the community of faith,

and to those in the world who are without such wholeness.

Centered in attitudes of joyous expectation and love-filled self-emptying,

I magnify my Lord, humbly submit, and hope unceasingly in divine promise.

I reverence the other as an irreplaceable likeness of our multifaceted God.

I dedicate my all to the service of the kingdom and the praise of God’s glorious grace.

Exceedingly blessed, my life is an incarnation of appreciation for all gifts bestowed upon me—

joyously received from my generous God,

graciously extended to others as theirs,

earnestly cultivated as they are entrusted.

Time, money, talent… each provision an offering back to the one who first imparted it.

Though the materialist myth proclaims unlimited resources, I live instead in moderation,

abstaining from crimes of excess so others may forgo crimes of need.

Ardently I nurture God-given favors—empathy, wisdom, intellect, health—

and employ these endowments of heart, soul, mind, and strength.

For justice and mercy I extend myself,

as one who has received unending mercy from the God of justice.

as one who sees the world crying out

for justice in its fallenness

and mercy in its brokenness.

as one called to and graced with the ministry of this inextricable pair—

two sides of the same coin, two expressions of the same love.

To character and virtue I devote myself,

growing always in thought and in deed towards purity of heart before my holy God,

living from this stance of integrity as the presence of God in the world,

salt and light to flavorlessness and darkness,

seeking always the fruit of the Spirit and the audacious balance

of a God-centered life in a perilously self-centered world.

This is the true way of life. This I choose. This I will be.


Paul said...

I love this.

And if it's not too personal a question - What have you done with it since posting it up here? How does this rule of life guide you? How do you go about judging your actions by it?

Is it something you always have in mind, or something you read frequently, or... how?

I'm just curious to know if you have a really good way of keeping these things in your mind at all times.

Cos if you do, I'll pinch that same technique :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Paul. And no, it's not too personal of a question. (I'm not sure if any question from you would qualify as that.) I honestly haven't *done* anything with it since writing it and posting it here. I haven't given the rule of life *as a rule of life* much though. Which in some ways is maybe the point. I'll try to make that make sense...

There are different ways to look at writing a rule of life. Some do it prescriptively. According to them, a rule of life should issue some challenges, calling you to a higher standard than you've been living thus far. Not a bad idea at all. I think that's definitely appropriate for many of us, and perhaps it just depends on where you are in life and what your outlook is. The other way to do a rule of life is more descriptively. Of course,it's an ideal that you might fall short of at times, but overall it basically tells how you already at least attempt to live your life.

I guess mine's kind of a combination of the two, and that's largely due to the fact that it is much more theoretical than practical. It doesn't say "I'll pray three times a day and fast once a week" or anything along those kinds of lines. It says something like "I want to be a person of grace, virtue, and love." That's perhaps just as easy to recognize in a person but is harder to define what it might specifically look like because every moment of every day is unique and calls for unique responses.

So I guess I'd say that these goals are (the kinds of) goals I pretty much always have in mind, though not necessarily in the form of these exact words. With them always in my heart and mind, I haven't come back to this specific rendering of a rule of life much in the past few weeks, and that's what I meant when I said that maybe that's a good thing. Especially since it's more descriptive than prescriptive, it's been internalized enough that I don't have to (though, of course, I don't always measure up to it).

If I continue to develop this rule over coming years, I probably will try to put it to memory. Haven't gotten there yet, though. I would like to print it off and put it somewhere I'd see it regularly, but I haven't gotten around to that yet either. Thanks for the reminder. When I do that, or when I memorize it, it would be a good practice to go back to it daily or weekly and evaluate my life, attitudes, and actions, assessing them according to who I've said I want to be and seeing if I'm actually living as that kind of person.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on your own kind of rule of life. What kind of person do you want to commit to being, and what kinds of practices might that involve? And, to turn the question back around on you, how would/do you go about keeping yourself accountable to that kind of standard?