“All those who want to be attentive to who they are becoming must realize that formation begins with a framework of habits…Only when your habits are constructed to match your worldview do you become someone who doesn’t just know about God and neighbor but someone who actually loves God and neighbor.” - Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule
I was first introduced to the concept of a “rule of life” when I was in seminary. I was taking a week-long intensive course on “Spiritual Traditions and Practices,” and one of our assignments was to write our own rule of life for the following six months. In my ambition, I crafted a list of daily, weekly, and monthly spiritual practices that I thought would impress my professor, from reading all of C.S. Lewis’ collected works to watercolor painting every week, to praying a psalm a day. Then real life happened, and I’m not sure I looked at again, even once.
The word “rule” may not sound all that appealing—especially when it’s attached to the words “OF LIFE.” Does writing one mean I have to follow every single practice for the rest of my days?
Well, if you’re anything like me, then there’s some good news: the word “rule” isn’t referring to set of near-impossible expectations or standards to uphold at all! Rather, a rule of life is simply a curated set of intentional practices and rhythms that cultivate attentiveness to God in this specific season of your life.
He Is Life Itself
Pete Scazzero suggests in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality that a rule of life begins with the simple desire for God himself, “to be with him and know him” (p. 196). In Psalm 16, the psalmist declares: “I have set the LORD always before me…You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:8, 11 ESV). As I read those words, I’m simultaneously challenged to understand what it means to always set the LORD before me, while also filled with hope that he has made the path of life—flourishing, full life and complete joy—available to me. He is always inviting me to experience this life.
I love the way that Eugene Peterson phrased Deuteronomy 30:19-20 his Message translation: “...love GOD, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself.”
BEcoming Like What We Worship
No good thing in this life compares to the One who gives it. He is life itself. I so deeply long to know him, and to live the life he offers. But if I’m being honest…I turn to so many other things in any given moment, thinking I’ll find life there. I fill my life with a cacophony of voices, all striving to convince me that they know the secret to full, joy-filled life. And then when I do finally respond to God’s loving, unwavering, gentle invitations to be with him, it’s often in fickle and fleeting moments that lack intentionality. Ruth Haley Barton writes,
"If we look closely at the way we live day to day, we may well not that our approach to spiritual formation is much more random and haphazard than our approach to finances, home improvements and weight loss! Many of us try to shove spiritual transformation into the nooks and crannies of a life that is already unmanageable, rather than being willing to arrange our life for what our heart most wants. We think that somehow we will fall into transformation by accident.” (Sacred Rhythms, pp. 146-7)
You see, we are shaped and formed by our habits and rhythms. We are, as Jamie Smith puts it, liturgical creatures. In his evocative and thoughtful Desiring the Kingdom, Smith posits that we as human beings intend or aim at the world through our person or consciousness, and that rather than intending the world through merely thinking or believing, we intend the world fundamentally through love as we feel our way around it. “To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who we are” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, p. 50). To have the capacity for such love means that it must be aimed at a particular target or goal, or telos in Greek, of human flourishing, or what we perceive is the best possible life.
This love that Smith is referring to, though, is not what we might expect; he is writing of our ultimate loves, because we worship what we love as ultimate, which in turn shapes our lives. Ultimate loves are “that to which we are fundamentally oriented, what ultimately governs our vision of the good life, what shapes and molds our being-in-the-world” (p. 51). What we love and worship as ultimate, then, actually shapes who we are and how we viscerally feel our way around the world. In short, we worship what we love, and we become like whatever it is we are worshiping.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 that we become more like Christ, transformed into his image from glory to glory, as we behold him. Developing a pattern of spiritual practices can assist us in fixing our eyes on Christ, so that we are beholding him first.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll introduce a few spiritual practices that you can integrate into your daily and weekly rhythms, and then how to tie them all together in your own rule of life. Stay tuned!
Looking for some resources, including the ones mentioned in this post? Here ya go! (It’s not a CURATE blog post if we don’t end with a giant list of suggested reading, after all.)
Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook
Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule
Steve Macchia, Crafting a Rule of Life
Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
Ken Shigamatsu, God in My Everything
James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom
Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast