I recently ran across a devotional/planning calendar called Sacred Ordinary Days. There are a lot of these kinds of planners on the market, but what I was immediately attracted to was that this calendar/tool is based on the liturgical year. It’s a big book, to be honest, and has pages for months, weeks, and days. On the weekly pages it lists the Revised Common Lectionary readings and on the daily pages it lists the Book of Common Prayer readings for Daily Prayer. Though I often work with scripture, I was drawn back to the idea that I would be reading texts with others and it would not just be limited to the scriptures I am working with. (If you want to check it out, go to http://www.sacredordinarydays.com)
In the opening pages the calendar designer invites the user to create a Rule of Life. This is not a new idea. In fact, spiritual directors often coach their directees to do something very similar. More than that, religious communities have often created a rule for their life together.
At our recent Annual Conference for the Church of the Brethren, I realized just how much we expect structures and beliefs to hold us together. In church-y language, we expect polity and policy to hold us together as a denomination. But even the most casual of observers would tell you, polity is often not strong enough to hold such a diverse community together. This is, in part, due to the fact that we as a denomination have very little common practice. The lowest common denominator is that we gather for worship on Sunday mornings. And yet, even then the practices of worship vary so much from congregation to congregation that we cannot even find touch points for our common life.
So I began wondering what a Rule of Life would look like for the Brethren. Could we construct a set of common practices that would ground a geographically dispersed people that spans several cultural and theological communities?
In the not so distant past it has been asserted that we need a set of core values or beliefs to keep us together. However, this idea often runs into two major problems. First, many see such a doctrinal core as too creedal. For a non-creedal tradition such a distillation of beliefs is often too divisive to do much good. Second, such an approach ignores the simple fact that values and beliefs emerge out of habits that themselves emerge from regular practice.
In the early centuries of the Middle Ages, Benedict of Nursia understood this beliefs from habits aspect of the Christian life. He composed a Rule for his community that established clear practices that were intended to form a certain kind of person. Of course, in the process he also interpreted these practices so that the monks who followed the Rule could understand what was intended– humility, stability, and prayer. Soon after, Pope Gregory understood the unifying effect of Benedict’s Rule and established it as the Rule for the western monks. It became the common practices of monasteries across Europe. And not long after that, monks formed by the shared life established by the Rule took on key leadership and began reforming the church structures. To this day, several monastic communities follow the Rule, and have found in it’s classical wisdom an impulse for renewal.
So, can we imagine a common Rule of Life for this people called the Brethren?
Here are a couple of key practices I have begun to sketch out.
1) Grounded in Scripture– those who submit to this Rule covenant to engage in a daily and weekly rhythm of studying and praying the scriptures. While many do this as part of their devotional practice, followers of the Rule would commit to study the texts outlined in the Revised Common Lectionary. What is more, they commit to praying the scriptures outlined in the Book of Common Prayer for Daily prayer.
2) Rooted in Worship- Followers of the Rule commit to regular participation in worship with a congregation. Two parts of this are key. First, it is to be a practice of corporate worship, and not something one does individually. Second, while the practices of worship may vary, the common thread between all these communities will be the use of the Revised Common Lectionary. Here, the wider church will be reading the same scriptures regardless of where the congregations are rooted. What is more, followers of the Rule will have been reading these same texts throughout the week, and will find a common, public proclamation of scriptures they have been reading privately during the week.
3) Reaching the surrounding community- Followers of the Rule will find or make regular opportunities to minister in their local community. Such practices of service are easy to find through other community organizations, but the key is to participate monthly, if not weekly. I would want to see this involve others, even if they are not practitioners of the Rule. For compassion and service are things not done well in isolation.
4) Shared meals- Followers of the Rule will have monthly common meals with others. These are not just social gatherings, but an intentional practice of sharing– sharing food, sharing prayers, and accountability. Key questions should emerge in the practice of sharing a meal in this manner, questions Brethren long ago asked one another before the Lord’s Supper or Love Feast. “How are you with God? How are you in love and community with your sisters and brothers?” We should include also a question about how or if people are keeping with the Rule.
This is by no means a fixed assertion, but a making public my own desire to find a Rule of Life. But at the same time, I do not want such a Rule to be something of my own creation. I am too Anabaptist to assume that others do not have something to offer or challenge.
So what say ye?