Updated: Aug 21
In what follows, we begin thinking about crafting a Rule of Life. While primarily addressed to those who don’t have a personal rule or live under the common rule of a specific community, hopefully the discussion can prove useful even to such people. Various rules abound, and writing about them as well.
This brief article cannot begin to do the subject justice. Rather, the attempt here is to merely get one started down the path. We will do this by considering an historical overview, then common pitfalls we can encounter, and, lastly, some guidelines that can get us started.
A brief historical overview
Within the covenant communities of both Israel and the church, there have been traditions of a more specific and intentional way of living. One of the earliest is the provision for Israelites to make a temporary vow as a Nazirite. Later, among the Essene community of Jews centered around Qumran, a Community Rule was developed. Following in this tradition, the early Christians who composed the Didache in the first century AD have left us a church order which combines catechetical teachings, instructions on worship and leadership, and ethical practices considered to be the norm by which Christians would live. It is often assumed that the idea of a Rule of Life is a later invention, these sources show us just how ancient the idea really is.
Later, rules proliferate. There are the monastic rules of Pachomius and Saint Benedict, which begin to regularize the life of the earliest hermits of Egypt and Europe. Variations and reforms of these appear over time, as do the Rules of other orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, and those of lay communities. In the modern era, we see communities such as the Grandchamp sisterhood in Switzerland and the Taize community in France re-introducing such ways of life to the Protestant world. And Bonhoeffer’s Life Together can be properly viewed as a narrative meditation on the rule he enacted at Finkenwalde, drawing on his experiences with more traditional monastic communities in both Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism. With the rise of the New Monastic Movement, various orders and communities have been established, most of which have at least some rudimentary common rule. All of these historical rules are worth exploring for ideas, depending on one’s sense of affinity with the spirituality and life of the group.
Some cautions to consider
Before we actually begin to draft our ideas, there are some thing to be aware of that will help us to be more successful in our crafting, as well as in our later living by our rule.
The first is: don’t forget doctrine. The earliest rules, you may notice, included both a section of teaching and belief as well as the practices one inhabits. In those times, the surrounding culture did not support the faith of the community, so it was important to set out both the distinct beliefs and practices to which one would adhere. Laters rules tended to focus only on practices, as the Christian faith and relative literacy about it could be assumed in the wider culture. As we have moved into a post-Christian era once again, it is perhaps useful to return to the earlier practice. The historic creeds and the confessions of one’s particular church tradition may prove beneficial- in addition to a regular practice of studying them. Many of us, if we are honest, need to resist the pull of individualistic, “designer Christianity,” and have not really been catechized as well as earlier generations.
Secondly, we should be careful to ensure that our rule is not a prison. It is a voluntary choice, not a requirement, and can even be set aside altogether if it just isn’t for us. It is meant to enable our discipleship to flourish, not create shame or guilt. The first draft will not be perfect and it will often need revision as well. As Pete Scazzaro says:
Developing an intentional Rule of Life takes trial and error. You will need to learn a great deal about yourself… For example, what kinds of spiritual practices bring you closer to God? Which drive you away from him? How can you discern the right combination for your particular Rule of Life? My personal Rule of Life is a prayer document that constantly changes. It is a “live” work in progress—always.
Our goal should be a manageable pattern that can be lived consistently and that challenges us without adding a destructive burden. As Simon Chan says, “Rules can make us or break us… They have their place, as long as we recognize their fundamental status.”
Lastly, remember that a proper Rule of Life is anchored in conversation. Trying to live in an intentional Christian manner without input- from a pastor, spiritual director, or a faith community- is to invite all manner of problems and potentially create either a failure or a nightmare. Later articles will address this caution more completely.
Where to begin? Some guidelines
We want to gather our spiritual practices, how and when we do them- and, as I argued above- the faith we profess into one coherent and fairly short document. This will take some degree of self-knowledge, some familiarity with spiritual practices, some dreaming, and drafting and rewriting over time. Try and strike a balance between being creative, challenging and realistic. Above all, be patient with yourself.
Simon Chan suggests that, as regards our practices, we start with something close to our existing routine, strike a balance between flexibility and perseverance, and keep it simple, easy to remember, and reasonable for our lifestyle. Pete Scazzero suggests considering the following categories: Prayer, Rest, Work/Activity, and Relationships. The Benedictine Experience retreats that have been popular in recent decades have the following suggestions for how to live a Benedictine life in the world:
1. Pray at least two Offices daily.
2. Read and meditate on sacred scripture at least once a day.
3. Practice times of silence.
4. Practice a contemplative type of prayer daily.
5. Remember that every moment of our lives is lived in the Divine Presence.
6. Do a partial or full fast (or abstain from meat) at least once a week.
7. Attend church services and/or receive the Holy Eucharist at least once weekly.
8. Care for those you live with, work with, and worship with.
9. Treat your family and your daily work/profession as your main Christian ministry.
10. Refrain from judging others and pray for them instead.
11. Be consistently involved in at least one ministry/program of your parish.
12. Treat all physical objects in your environment with care and reverence.
13. “The love of Christ must come before all else.”- from the Rule of Benedict Chap. 4
14. Be faithful (stable) in your family, employment, parish responsibilities.
15. Serve others with consistent patience and care.
These are just a few examples of the kind of guidelines we can use to craft our rule- and there are many more. Helpful? Yes. Potentially overwhelming? Certainly. Which is why we need both conversation partners and to be grounded in a community if we are to create anything useful at all. As has been said, that is where we are heading in the upcoming articles.
Les Martin is a participant in the A300 program and a long-term missionary in Nigeria. An Anglican priest, he is an Archdeacon and serves in the office of Canon Theologian for the Anglican Diocese of Pankshin, while lecturing at Archbishop Vining College of Theology, Akure. He lives in Lagos with his wife Kate, and he believes that his marriage to her is far more important than anything else mentioned above.
 - Love to read? Want to go deeper immediately? A good place to start is Ken Shigematsu’s God in My Everything (Zondervan, 2013).  - see Numbers 6:1-21, Judges 13:5-7 and Amos 2:11-12.  - An overview can be found at https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/places/related-articles/dead-sea-scrolls-community  - the Didache can be read at https://reformedwiki.com/read-didache-kirsopp among other places online.  - see https://www.grandchamp.org/en/ , https://www.taize.fr/en?chooselang=1 , and https://static1.squarespace.com/static/518c65fee4b0887d9a39138d/t/5827e7aab3db2b0f3d311bf5/1479010229503/Life+Together_Eng.pdf respectively.  - It is helpful to remember that if one is a member of a community, or an Oblate / Associate / Third Order member of an established religious order, then you already have a common rule of life. What remains is to appropriately adapt it to your manner of life and live into it, as opposed to starting from scratch. Further, the community is likely to have resources and people to assist you.  - Scazzero, P. (2017). Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It's Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature, Updated Edition (p. 194). Zondervan.  - Chan, S. (1998). Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life (p. 191). Intervarsity Press.  - drawn from Chan, S. (1998). Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life (pp. 194-195). Intervarsity Press. His whole discussion in Chapter 10 of the book is worth visiting.  - Scazzero, P. (2017). Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It's Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature, Updated Edition (p. 193 and following). Zondervan. Again, the whole of his Chapter 8 can prove useful.  - see http://www.benedictfriend.org