Rule of Life

At Perkins School of Theology, all first-year students are expected (“required” really, but I don’t love that word) to enroll in a one-hour Spiritual Formation course.  According to Perkins’ website, this course “seeks to prepare students for a ministry which incorporates personal spiritual formation, experience with the variety of spiritual disciplines, the ability to facilitate the spiritual growth of others, the critical capacity to evaluate trends in spiritual expression, and the ability to nurture the same capacity in others.” (via this website.)

Anyway, so I’m enrolled in this class & we have journal entries to turn in every week, and we have daily readings, and sometimes we even focus on a spiritual discipline to practice during the week.  Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy this course, I get to bond with 11 other students in a way that is different than simply being classmates in a lecture together.  However, for a one-hour course, it takes up a huge chunk of my studying life.  Still, all of this is beside the point…

The heart of the matter is that this past week we reached the final chapter of the book we have been studying since August (Soul Feast by Marjorie J. Thompson, definitely a recommendable book). As bittersweet as this moment was (we literally spent 20+ weeks studying a book with 9 chapters), the subject of our final chapter resounded within me.  It’s entitled “Putting It All Together: Developing a Rule of Life”.  Our assignment for this past Wednesday’s session, was to reflect on the chapter and to develop your own personal rule of life.  Thompson gives (in her book) the rule of life for many famous people, Pope John XXIII, Dr. MLK Jr., Dorothy Day, a Russian baroness, and so on.  One of Pope John XXIII’s rules was to make time for “[f]ifteen minutes of spiritual reading”, he didn’t try to make himself holier by setting an ungodly amount of time for reading (like 3 hours); he made it simple, he made it something he could hold true to every single day.  For Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “[s]acrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free”  was a rule he wanted to conform to each day.  None of these rules seemed unattainable, or super pious; instead they were simple, they were true, they reflected the person’s personality.

As a class, we then delved into John Wesley and his three rules of life: 1) Do No Harm 2) Do Good 3) Attend on the ordinances of God (I got this out of Wesley and the People Called Methodist by Richard Heitzenrater, simply because it’s what I’m currently reading, also a recommendable book).  We agreed that all of these were rules we desired to follow; however, our professor, Dr. Stamm, encouraged us to look closer at the 3rd rule.  There are a lot of rules of life that we agree to, yet sometimes forget to consider; i.e. our Baptismal Covenant, Steve wrote about this forever ago & I think it is something that can get lost outside of a baptism.  Wedding vows (including the Declaration of Intention), our Communion Invitation, in each of these we are making promises, we are saying that we will uphold our values, our rules (okay, I’ve never made a wedding vow; I needed another illustration though, go with it).

I shared my 9 Rules of Life with my classmates and as I read through theirs, I found things I want to incorporate into mine as well.  Lent seems like a good time, for me at least, to focus on the rule of life that I will hold myself accountable to.  I will leave you with this quote…

“O, Begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises… Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily.  It is for your life; there is no other way: else you will be a trifler all your days… Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow.  Do not starve yourself any longer.”     -John Wesley

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