As we continue to struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic, we have a good opportunity to reflect and craft a Rule of Life. The Rule of St. Benedict came into existence at the beginning of the 6th century as a way for St. Benedict to help those monks in his monastery structure their lives in a way grew them spiritually. These monastics were experiencing outbreaks of the plague and had witnessed the fall of the western Roman Empire. There are a number of other Rules in use by various Orders around the world, with many differences between them, but their core goals are the same.
Importantly, Rules are descriptive of what brings a person closer to God not prescriptive of required action, though certainly Rules are often used prescriptively by the followers of the various Orders. The focus for your Rule is those things you already do that are life-giving to you not the things you should do. Reading the Bible may make it on some people’s list and not others, and both are perfectly fine responses.
Ask yourself: What are the things you do that help you to feel the most truly yourself? What are those things that bring you a deep sense of peace and calm? We want to write these down so that as we become decentered in our lives, when we are feeling scattered and “not ourselves”, we have something to look at to see what centering practices we might be missing. Anecdotally, it has also been good for my marriage to understand what practices my wife needs to be centered and for her to know the same things about me.
Note: you are not looking for numbing or avoiding activities. Alcohol, pot, hours of television, listening to podcasts, and reading social media are all things that can have their place in a person’s life, but the Rule is about becoming more ourselves and closer to the Ground-of-All-Being not numbing or avoiding our lived experience.
To craft your Rule of Life, take out a piece of paper and write down four major categories, leaving plenty of space between them: Daily, Weekly, Monthly, and Yearly.
Daily These are things you might do every day or almost every day:
Sitting and drinking coffee in the stillness of an early morning.
A walk around the neighborhood
Reading the Bible
Morning prayer/morning devotionals
Weekly Weekly practice examples:
Building a fire
Visiting an art gallery
Monthly Monthly practices might be once or twice a month:
Date with a loved one
Long bike ride
A book club
A day of silent prayer
Yearly Things you do no more than a handful of times a year:
A Lenten Fast
A silent retreat
Once you have your Rule written out, it might be useful to give yourself time to grieve the things on your Rule that have not been possible since the beginning of the pandemic. Allow yourself to mourn the loss of important practices that help you be who you want to become. Hopefully, though, through this exercise, you’ll discover some practices that are more important to you than you realized, and perhaps you can find room for those things in the midst of this difficult moment in the history of the world. Finally, your Rule is not a list of Yet More Things to Feel Bad About. It’s a reminder of what edifies you. Having grace for yourself when you miss a part of your Rule is an important spiritual practice in its own right.
Bart Hennigan has a Master of Public and International Affairs degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He completed Sewanne's Education for Ministry and is pursuing certification as a spiritual director through the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. When not reading or discussing philosophy and theology, Bart is a stay-at-home father of three, which has taught him much about patience and the importance of silence.