The purpose of a Rule is to lay down working guidelines for the inner life and also provide a framework for the balanced ordering of work, leisure and social relationships. Hence a Rule of life is not only relevant to the monastic tradition: the principles can be used by anyone who is concerned about how they live their lives and they provide markers and guidelines, inspired by the Spirit, to help them on their journey towards God.
It becomes for us ‘an exterior framework for an interior journey’: a kind of scaffolding to use to build the spiritual structure of our individual life with God. It provides creative boundaries and spiritual disciplines whilst still leaving plenty of room for growth, development and flexibility. It is a railing to hold on to as we journey in our search for God, and, when we are blown off course, it is a signpost to a safe haven. It gives us a means of perception: a way of seeing so that we can attempt to handle our lives and relationships more wisely.
An illustration of the purpose of a Rule of life is to think of an analogy with our spectacles. We don’t look at our glasses, however expensive or original they are. The reason why we don’t look at them is that the whole purpose of having a pair of glasses is to look through their lenses to what we see in everyday life. It would be utter foolishness if all we did was to look at the glasses rather than look through them to what they revealed to us.
A Rule is meant to be a spur to growth. It can be likened to a stake used to hold up a plant. By providing structure and support to the plant, it enables the plant to grow quickly and healthily. In a similar way, a Rule of life provides structure and support not only to our prayer life, but to every aspect of life, enabling us to grow into the persons God wants us to be. Because of this, a Rule works best when it challenges us. It can’t be so easy that we are not stretched: but neither can it be so demanding that we have difficulty even meeting its minimum standards. Otherwise it is likely to discourage us, and therefore to defeat its own purpose. A Rule is not there to make us feel good or feel bad, but to help our individual growth in spiritual maturity. If it becomes hard to follow, becomes a burden or causes you feelings of guilt, then give it up – it is not for you.
“A Rule must be appropriate. It must inspire a journey of exploration, aided by perceptive guidelines, themselves applicable to and interpretive of the real life of each traveller.” Alex Whitehead
Just as we all have habits and routines that make our lives flow that much easier, so a Rule enables us to adopt a chosen daily pattern of life helping us on our faith journey to focus and refocus on God. It is a means of recollection in which we are constantly reminded of principles that further our seeking after God.
As a geographically-dispersed Community our Rule of life is deliberately flexible and adaptable, so that it does not prescribe uniformly, but provokes individually. It describes a process whereby we each seek God alone – whoever we are, wherever we are, whatever we are – so we can each be a sign of vulnerability, a sign of availability, wherever we are as a scattered Community. Yet at the same time our life together is intentional: it is not a haphazard, ‘anything-goes’ individual interpretation. We do have a common purpose and for that reason our Rule of life is a statement reflecting our shared understanding of the principles of our life and what is necessary to maintain it. The Rule is a living instrument; a source of inspiration; and a subject of constant study, reflection and prayer. Its value and power depend on its ability to act as a lens through which we can interpret life as we experience it and as God currently leads us.
We don’t want to box God into denominations or narrow statements of faith – we’ve seen the damage these can do. Those who feel it is of vital importance to hold a ‘pre-millennial, post-tribulationist position within a dispensationalist view of the Second Coming of Christ’’ will struggle with our deliberately flexible and adaptable Rule of Life! We don’t want uniformity; we don’t want to become ‘established’; and we don’t want to conform tidily. We want to remain raw and ragged – because we are not a commodity to be packaged, as it were, so that somebody can say, ‘I’ve read your bumph, been there, done that, where’s the T-shirt?’
We want to emphasise that our Rule does not prescribe: it. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive – the very opposite of a uniform approach. In effect, it is saying, bring all your idiosyncrasies, prejudices and crap, all your unique experience, all your knowledge and understanding of life – bring it all to the Rule of Availability and Vulnerability. We must then learn to hold it loosely so as to make our own discoveries, coming to the realisation that there won’t always be an answer and that it’s OK to keep living those questions: How then shall we live? Who is God? Who am I? What is real?
This will lead us to a further realisation that God gives different answers to different people in different situations and circumstances. In many ways it would be so much easier to say, ’Do this’, ‘Don’t do that’, ‘Say three Hail Marys’, ‘Say two Our Fathers four times a day’;but we need broad strokes and general principles to which we can each apply our specifics – our own unique set of circumstances and relationships.
‘A Rule offers ‘creative boundaries within which God’s loving presence can be recognised and celebrated.’ It does not prescribe but invite, it does not force but guide, it does not threaten but warn, it does not instil fear but points to love. In this it is a call to freedom, freedom to love.’ Henri Nouwen
Life should have large elements of spontaneity and our approach to it should be infinitely adaptable. But the Rule provides key markers, some of which will just be temporary check-points, but others will be relevant throughout our whole lives.
Read how we use a Rule in everyday life.