Here are some suggestions to consider including in your Regula Vitae. Please don’t try to include them all– choose some. And add your own, which will probably be much better than someone else’s! These are intended to start you thinking.
Simplicity and Generosity
Keep a diary of my discretionary purchases and reflect on them
Chris Webb from the Renovare Movement shares his own Regula Vitae. It seems pretty daunting at first but remember he’s be at this kind of thing for years. As you can see, he has committed himself to a range of activities and attitudes for the year– some regular, some occasional. But notice also that there are only twelve things, each with a certain simplicity. Chris himself says of them, “I would be the first to admit, it is not exactly earth-shaking. This handful of simple, straightforward commitments is not about to change the world. But it did change my world.”
A Personal Rule of Life
Pray the daily morning and evening prayers from the Anglican Common Book of Prayer (editor’s note: Dickson did not make me write this!)
Last week I referred us to The Common Rule, by Justin Whitmel Earley (thanks to Yeesum for the recommendation!). The following excerpts (in italics) might be helpful for you to consider as you start to form up your own Regula Vitae.
Our lives are formed and governed by a myriad of habits and rituals– daily, weekly, annual– which lie unexamined beneath the surface of our lives. It’s just how we are: some habits are good and some are bad. “… the most alarming part of this is not our bad habits, which we tend to know about. It’s our collective assimilation, which is invisible to us. We have a common problem. By ignoring the ways habits shape us, we’ve assimilated to a hidden rule of life: the American rule of life. This rigorous program of habits forms us in all the anxiety, depression, consumerism, injustice, and vanity that are so typical in the contemporary American life.” (insert your own thoughts about what might constitute a contemporary Australian life!)
And so we would do well to intentionally craft our own Rule of Life.
“What’s a rule of life?” I now know that a “rule of life” is a term for a pattern of communal habits for formation. The most well-known rules of life were originally developed by church fathers and ancient monastics, such as St. Augustine or St. Benedict. But for thousands of years, spiritual communities have been using the frame of the rule of life as a mechanism of communal formation. Despite our understanding of the word “rule,” a “rule of life” is much less about obeying rules than it is about finding communal purpose. For example, while both St. Augustine’s and St. Benedict’s rule have all kinds of tiny habits that we might either consider too inane to matter or too strict to be appropriate, we should notice that both of them had the same goal in mind: love. Both were obsessed with taking the small patterns of life and organizing them towards the big goal of life: to love God and neighbour. St. Augustine’s rule began with this sentence: “Before all things, most dear brothers, we must love God and after Him our neighbor; for these are the principal commands which have been given to us.” St. Benedict’s rule opens declaring that it means to establish “nothing harsh, nothing burdensome,” but goes on to describe walking in God’s commandments as being in the “ineffable sweetness of love.” Both saw habits as the gears by which to direct life toward the purpose of love. In fact, the word rule is used because it comes from the Latin word regula, a word associated with a bar or trellis, the woodwork on which a plant grows. The idea is that we (like plants) are always growing and changing. But when there is no order, growth can take something that was supposed to produce fruit and turn it into a twisted vine of decay.
… Let us see that habits shape the heart. Let us stop fearing that limits are a threat to our freedom. Let us see that the right limitations are the way to the good life. Let us build a trellis for love to grow on. Let us craft a common rule of life for our time, one that will unite our heads and our habits, growing us into the lovers of God and neighbor we were created to be.
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, a collection of stories from early Christian Egypt, tells a fascinating tale about structure and rhythms. Anthony of Egypt was a young man who went to live in the harsh desert regions east of the Nile with one simple yet daring goal in mind: to strip away every distraction this world had to offer so he could seek God with his whole heart. Anthony pursued life with God at a level of intensity most of us find difficult to imagine—a pursuit which led to incredible spiritual experiences: visions of Christ, battles with evil spirits, and divine revelations.
Anthony, though, became deeply discouraged, uncertain that all his efforts were really achieving anything. He was still deeply conscious of his sins, still (at times) felt far from God. He turned his anxiety into prayer: “Lord, I want to be made whole by your grace, but this discouragement will not leave me alone. What can I do? How can I be made whole?”
As he finished praying he opened the door of his cell and caught sight of an angel sitting outside patiently weaving reed baskets. After a while the angel set aside his work, stood up, and stretched out his hands to pray. Then when he had finished, he sat down and began weaving again. As Anthony watched from his doorway, the angel turned to him, smiled, and said, “Anthony, just do this—and then you will be made whole.”
To Anthony, the point was immediately clear. The angel did not bring another astounding experience, another revelation or vision. Instead, he modeled a rhythm of living. Work and pray. Work and pray. Just do this and do it this way, quietly and faithfully—and you will find the wholeness of life you seek.
In his essay, “We Live by Rhythms“, Chris Webb explains that most of us would benefit from the Christian tradition of intentionally structuring our lives through a Regula Vitae—a “Rule of Life.” Don’t panic, this is not a legalistic set of rules to follow. Rather, it’s an invitation to write down some of your thoughts and responses to the questions you have been thinking about already this month.
Regula was the Latin word for a length of wood with markings, used for measuring and alignment—similar to our present-day classroom rulers. We hold things against a ruler to see if they are straight and if their proportions and measurements are right. In the same way a Regula Vitae—a “Rule of Life”—is an opportunity for us to mark out some of our intentions in advance and then to regularly hold it up to our life and see how our alignment and proportions are fairing. When we align our habits with our faith, we become people who actually love God and our neighbour– as opposed to just knowing about them.
The importance of planning and reflecting on the patterns and rhythms of our lives has been long established by Christians of all kinds– even St. Anthony of Egypt. Some patterns are weekly (sabbath, church, etc), some patterns are monthly (e.g., giving from our pay-cheque) and some patterns are seasonal, as we go through different seasons of life. For further reading about fruitfully navigating the different seasons of life, I warmly recommend Mark Buchanan’s Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul.
Without committing yourself to anything at this stage, what worthwhile things might you commit yourself to this year? As you journal on this theme, try to describe what such a commitment would look like for you, and how it might benefit your relationship with Jesus Christ?
Some further thoughts on establishing a Regula Vitae for yourself: