What is a Rule of Life?

A Rule of life is absolutely essential to any monastic life. It says ‘this is who we are, this is our story’; and it reminds us of those things God has put on our hearts, calling us back to our foundations. The idea of a Rule of life developed in Christian monastic communities, and indeed, monasteries and convents today still function under a Rule, the best-known of which is that of St Benedict, dating from the 6th century. Monastic stability is based on accountability to the Rule of life; it serves as a framework for freedom – not as a set of rules that restrict or deny life, but as a way of living out our vocation alone and together. It is rooted in Scripture, pointing always to Christ; and, in the words of St Benedict, it is ‘simply a handbook to make the very radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in daily life.’

‘In the developing history of monasticism each community or monastic order has had its own particular areas of strength, calling and emphasis. One may be contemplative; another may have at its heart a calling to serve the poor; another the carrying of the Gospel to people of different languages or culture-groups; another may have its strengths in spiritual direction, education or discipleship. Their Rule will reflect this emphasis and provide a basic ground in the common calling of everyone identified as part of the community. When it became time to formulate our Community Rule we tried to discern what the vows should be which would reflect the character and spirituality of the Community as it had already developed. It was as a result of this reflection that Availability and Vulnerability were to be embraced as the distinctive charisms of our Community.’  Andy Raine

The history of the Northumbria Community is one of responding to a call we believe to be from God: a call to risky living, exploring ‘a new monasticism’ and our Rule developed out of this life already being lived. In effect it Follow_mewas a written response to the many people who were asking what was central to our hopes and dreams, and what were the values and emphases that reflected the character and ethos of our way for living. By a process of trial and error we found we were learning to live the questions as well as ask them: How then shall we live? Who is it that you seek? How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Living these questions, rather than providing pat answers that effectively ended the quest, actually became lifeblood for the Community. We discovered the reality of Rowan Williams’ statement that ‘Christ indeed answers our questions; but he also questions our answers.’

This is really important to understand: our Rule is our response to these questions . It is not an answer, only a response: an exploration of a way for living rooted in liberty rather than legalism or licence.

‘For us, the life came before the Rule. We were living, hoping and dreaming these things before they were ever written down. So, we must focus not on the Rule, but on the things God has put on our heart. The Rule serves to remind us of these things, serves as a check, and calls us back to see if our dreams are still there. ‘It has more to do with a spiritual vision of community life, with roots continually to be rediscovered, than with a legislation document’ as The Taizé Story says in discussing their own community Rule.’  Andy Raine

A Rule then is a means whereby, under God, we take responsibility for the pattern of our spiritual lives. It is a ‘measure’ rather than a ‘law’. The word ‘rule’ has bad connotations for many, implying restrictions, limitations and legalistic attitudes. But a Rule is essentially about freedom. It helps us to stay centred, bringing perspective and clarity to the way of life to which God has called us. The word derives from the Latin ‘regula’ which means ‘rhythm, regularity of pattern, a recognisable standard’ for the conduct of life. Esther De Waal has pointed out that ‘regula’ ‘is a feminine noun which carried gentle connotations’ rather than the harsh negatives that we often associate with the phrase ‘rules and regulations’ today. We do not want to be legalistic. A Rule is an orderly way of existence but we embrace it as a way of life not as keeping a list of rules. It is a means to an end – and the end is that we might seek God with authenticity and live more effectively for Him.

‘Being bound to a Rule of life could be very restricting, but it is a voluntary and purposeful restriction. It excludes other possibilities in order to be focused on what is chosen. There are new and demanding priorities, but there is also much joy.’ Andy Raine

The word for Rule has a double root-meaning; one is that of a ‘signpost’ which has a purpose of pointing away from itself so as to inform the traveller that they are going in the right direction on their journey. It would be foolish to claim we have arrived if we are only at the signpost! We don’t stop at the Rule and venerate it. The other root-meaning is that of ‘a banister railing’ which is something that gives support as you move forward, climbing or descending on your journey.

Read about why we need a Rule of Life.