Living by a Rule
In the third century the first Christian monasteries wrote rules covering all aspects of life on their walls. The goal was to keep God at the centre of their individual and collectives living.
The word 'rule' can bring to mind images of school regulations, legal requirements and maybe for us Methodists, CPD! But the word 'rule' really means 'regular' and so a rule of lfe is something to help us live our lives in regular contact with God, welcoming each new day/week as an opportunity to love and serve God and our neighbour.
The MDO rule offers a means by which "we might be liberated to find a sense of wholeness in the rhythm of life" and find "a framework for the enrichment of our own life, the life of the Order and the people of God amongst whom we live". In comparison the Rule of St Benedict emphasises the daily balance between work, rest and prayer lived out in community.
A rule of life should enable us to develop a balanced, sustainable and enjoyable rhythm of life. Its purpose is to map out for us in a few practical ways the different dimensions of our calling, helping us to balance, rather than be driven by, the many demands of life. In this way we may live in every area of our lives or, as John Greenleaf Whittier wrote: "Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease, let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace".
The Diaconal Rule of Life
We follow this Rule of Life to deepen our fellowship and bind us together as a dispersed community, that we may continue to become the people God wants us to be, both individually and as an Order. This rule does not bind us in a way that stifles and disables, but is a means by which we might be liberated to find a sense of wholeness in the rhythm of life. There is no element of compulsion in it, but the hope that freely followed and adapted to personal needs and circumstances, it will become the framework for the enrichment of our own life, the life of the Order and the people of God amongst whom we live. Every member of the Order is encouraged to adapt the rule to their own needs and experiences. May it be to us a blessing and joy, and bring glory to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We endeavour to:
- attend worship regularly, especially Holy Communion.
- set aside time each day to read the Bible devotionally and to pray, including a time of intercession for members of the Order.
- regularly set aside time for self-examination, a chance to look back and see where we have failed in loving God and our neighbours and to give thanks for blessings received.
- find a spiritual director/companion, who will accompany, help and affirm us, and make time each year for a Retreat or Quiet Day.
We endeavour to:
- be sensitive to the needs of those close to us, our families, dependents and friends.
- be aware of and relate to, the community in which we live.
- acknowledge and enjoy God's gifts to us of time, talents, money and possessions and through God's grace be able stewards of these.
- order the rhythm of each day, month and year, to allow for study and relaxation, weekly day off, regular holiday.
- attend Convocation (unless a dispensation is granted).
- participate in the life of area groups wherever possible and attend meetings.
- keep in contact with other members of the Order by giving or receiving of fellowship and support, by visits, letter or telephone.
The following areas are to help you further explore some aspects of living by a Rule of Life:
Be a gracious presence in the world.
“We endeavour to: …to regularly set aside time …acknowledge and enjoy…participate…keep in contact…be sensitive…be aware...attend…” MDO Rule
We know how good it feels to discover those little extra touches someone has gone to because we were coming to stay; to receive that thank you card and box of chocolates! Sometimes when we observe someone acting in this way we find ourselves thinking “I wish I had thought to do/say that!”
A rule of life encourages us to think graciously and to be gracious to others with simply acts of hospitality and care in our daily life, on a daily basis. Sometimes such an act will be easy and a joy to offer and as a bonus it will be well received and bless you in return; at others times it will have none of these attributes. It is then that a rule can step in and offer that timely reminder and encouragement putting the perspective back into why we are doing what we do and whilst not making it necessarily any easier it can give us the grace and strength we need to continue.
And at times we also need to remember that we too need to accept hospitality from others as a gift sent from God. An early Rule puts it this way “… each one should confidently make known their need to others, so that they might find what they need and minister it to them.”
- Building Community
See building community, caring for others and the environment as spiritual practices.
"We endeavour to: Be sensitive to the needs of those close to us, our families, dependents and friends…Be aware of and relate to the Community in which we live…Attend Convocation…Participation in the life of Area Groups…Keep contact with other members of the Order…” MDO Rule
Each Christian is called not only to participate in the life of Christ and to be involved with the people and the communities in which they are placed. Following a rule of life helps us to see that the people and communities that God gives us are as much part of God’s calling and vocation as the more obvious things we “do” for God!
“We follow this Rule ...to deepen our fellowship and bind us together as a dispersed community that we may continue to become the people God wants us to be, both individually and as an Order.” MDO Rule
The MDO although a religious order we do not ordinarily live and work with other members of our Order. We are a dispersed community. Each of us working and living where God (and the Church) has placed us. So has our rule suggests we must make every effort we can within our given circumstances to contribute to making community happen among us. We are only truly a member of the Order when we participate in it’s the life, the Order only truly functions when all its members are involved. The same can be said for other groupings such as in families shared households and other types of community.
“Community is gift and task, blessing and burden, a place of joy and a place of struggle and suffering. Community makes possible a corporate witness that is more powerful than the voice of the individuals…” Diakonia’s Diaconal Theology
The Jerusalem community, a French religious community within the Roman Catholic tradition has within its rule the following “Learn to contemplate the beauty and holiness of the city where God resides and where he has placed you.” In other words practice paying attention to those with whom you share your life and the place you happen to be and you will discover the sacred in your midst.
 Diakonia’s Diaconal Theology, Diakonia Federation 1998
 Jerusalem Community see the English version of their website www.jerusalem.cef.fr/jerusalem/en/en_index.html
- Rest and Recreation
Taking care of your self is a spiritual practise
"We endeavour to…Order the rhythm of each day, month, year to allow … relaxation, weekly day off, regular holiday…” MDO Rule
If you were on an airplane and it became necessary for the oxygen mask to descend, we are told the first rule is to put on your own mask before helping anyone else! Jesus said something similar when he told us that we are to care for our neighbour as we care for ourselves.
Jesus invites us to life in all its fullness. For Jesus this included times away from what might be seen as the “job”. It involved parties, quiet days, sitting around on the beach with friends enjoying a Barbeque! Yet sometimes when we think of our diary we realise how easily we forget or neglect this part of Jesus’ life! If we are to truly emulate Jesus and fulfil our calling as disciples of the one who came not to be served but to serve, this requires that we balance our living in a similar way as Jesus did and this includes taking time to care for ourselves.
A rule of life must include opportunites for self- care. Self - care includes having and taking time to- listen to your body; sleep enough; express affection; rest and exercise; eat properly.
As far back as the eleven and twelve century Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: “If you are wise you will become a reservoir rather than a canal. A canal distributes water as fast as it receives it; but a reservoir is content to wait until it is filled before overflowing, and thus without loss to itself, it communicates its superabundant water to others…. In the church of the present day, we have many canals but few reservoirs.” 
 Bernard de Clairvaux 1090-1153
- Self Examination
‘We endeavour to regularly set aside time for self-examination – a chance to look back and see where we have failed in loving God and our neighbours and to give thanks for blessings received.’
There is a story about St Ignatious, the writer of the Spiritual Exercises. He founded a community of lived by a rule of life which included a daily pattern of prayer and physical work. One day one of the monks came to talk to him because he was struggling to fit into his day all the expectations of prayer, study and physical work and he wanted to know if he was permitted to leave anything out. Ignatious advised him to leave out everything except the examen. For him, the examen, or the examination of conscience, is the cornerstone of our spiritual life and a way of allowing God to speak through our deepest feelings and yearnings – what Ignatious would call consolation and desolation; consolation being those moments in which we most connected with God, with ourselves and with others and desolation being those moments of dis-connection. We return to these moments consciously allowing God to reveal himself in those experiences, allowing those experiences to help to continue to become the people God wants us to be.
The examen can be carried out anywhere but it might be helpful to identify a small safe space where you can sit comfortably and not be disturbed as you ask yourself two beguilingly simple questions:
Where were my moments of consolation today?
Where were my moments of desolation today?
And then a third….what do you think God might be revealing to you and how might you respond.
- Help on the Journey - Spiritual Companionship
Commit yourself to regular companionship on the journey
“We endeavour to…find a spiritual director/companion, who will accompany, help and affirm us.” MDO Rule
Spiritual direction has been part of the Christian landscape throughout the centuries. Today the terms “faith accompaniment” or “spiritual companion” are often felt to be more accurate descriptions of this work. Whatever name we choose the purpose of having such a person in our lives is to enable us to be more attentive to God in our life and if we follow a rule of life they are also a good person to discuss our rule with. Finding a spiritual director or faith accompanier with whom you can discuss your Rule of Life with is important, many would say essential.
A spiritual director or faith accompanier will be someone who helps you focus on God in all dimensions of your life. In this relationship you are the focus, it is your life and your seeking of God. They will help and support you to attend to your seeking and desiring after God. Assisting you to explore your experiences of life and discern God within it. Enabling you to explore and deepen your prayer and relationship with God as life and faith change and develop. If you continue with the same person over time they can help to “hold the memory” so you remember were you have journeyed from- the heights and the depths.
This relationship is much more than gentle caring support it helps you clarify and make sense of your life. It is with someone who will help you to be responsible and accountable; and if you follow a rule someone who can assist you to discern where change or flexibility is needed. Spiritual direction offers a space to be yourself; it is a place of hospitality and safety, with firm boundaries.
This kind of relationship is for those who wish to grow and is not essentially problem based or about problem solving. Although this is not to say that such a relationship is not a help in times of need, many come to discover the value of spiritual direction at times of need.
Establish a regular practice of learning more.
“We endeavour to…Order the rhythm of each day, month and year to allow for study…” MDO Rule
All too readily and easily we see the world through our own lens, and assume this is the truth and wonder how anyone could view it in any other way! We can be in the same room and even appear to be on the “same page” together but somehow we seem to still manage to misunderstand one another This is a basic human tendency but as disciples of Jesus Christ we are urged to move beyond such basic tendencies and our own context
A commitment to being a person who allows time for learning and study involves broadening our vision and understanding. This comes through been open to others and being willing to engage with things outside of our context. It involves seeing life through other lens. Sometimes such learning and study comes in a formal way in the form of a training course or academic study but remember it is not limited to the institution.
Allowing one self to be a continual “learner” means we can be more open ensures we will be open to the promptings of the Spirit and the world around us in which we are called to be.
Approach your work as part of your spiritual life, rather than something divorced from it.
“Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we seek to be: …willing servants…” MDO rule
A famous chocolate bar has used several times over the years the word “work” in its advertising slogan. The suggestion being that the chocolate bar is suitable and helpful in all circumstances of life! Within a rule of live work is an important component, after all work (unpay or pay) is a major aspect of most of life- school work, housework, going to work!.
We are often told to dwell on the things that nourish us and “give us” life but what about when the work we do is not life giving? Not just occasionally or certain parts of it but most or all of the time, how might a rule of life assist us then?
The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order urges its members to see work both as “a gift and as a sharing in the creation, redemption, and service of the human community”. If we hold our work and the work of others with a similar high regard then work becomes transformed and part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ rather than something we must do to whether we want to or not whether we enjoy it or not! Such an attitude will also enable us to be grateful and appreciate more fully the opportunities we have to serve God and the friends of God, our neighbours and in turn will bring us life.
Keeping a journal of our observations about our work can also help us to find the most appropriate place for us to live out God’s calling. Take time to note those times when you had opportunities to serve others, to create rather than destroy, those things that gave you particular joy. As the days and pages are filled see if you see a pattern appearing that may help you more fully recognise God’s calling in your life. If you think or feel the place you are in, the work you do leaves you unfulfilled try seeing in the pages of your journal what is missing and use what you find to inform your prayer and to help you to discover a more appropriate and life giving place.
 The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order Rule 16 see www.ciofs.org
- The Devotional Life
Find a prayer type and rhythm that works for YOU
“We endeavour to: Attend worship … Set aside time to read the Bible…to pray…for self - examination… for a Retreat or Quiet Day…” MDO Rule
We are aware that as Christians we are called to a life of prayer. “Pray continually”[i] urges Saint Paul. Prayer is as the hymn writer spoke of the “Christian’s vital breath”[ii]. It therefore follows that finding and setting aside a time for prayer is an important part of our living out of God’s calling on our lives.
It may seem obvious to say that “Being” and “Doing” are two very different activities but it can easily happen when time is restricted or circumstances are challenging that the “Being” of our living gets the shorter measure! Saint Bernard[iii] reminds us that “the active life” (doing) is not possible without “a deep interior union with Christ” (being). It is value time well spent to reflect carefully on how we are balancing these two activities in our lives to ensure our “active life” is not hindering our “interior union with Christ”.
There are as many ways to pray as there are personalities, it is essential therefore that we discover what works best for us. Recognising that as we grow in Christ and in confidence in our prayer and also depending on our current situation and any particular circumstances our ways of praying will change and develop, this suggests a normal healthy devotional life!
"Your prayer will take countless forms because it is the echo of your life, and a reflection of the inexhaustible light in which God dwells." Rule for a New Brother[iv]
At the MDO Pastoral Centre we seek each morning at twenty to ten to set aside time for prayer. This is a tradition we have inherited from our Sisters in the Wesley Deaconess Order, who when based at Ilkley Deaconess College, they would pause at this time to pray for each other and especially those in the Overseas and Home Circuits. Today in the MDO’s monthly newsletter “The Order Paper” we have a prayer page called “Twenty to Ten”. Although this may not be the easiest or most appropriate time to stop and pray each day, (we each need to find what will work and be of most help in our own situation), it is a helpful reminder of our own commitment and need to stop for prayer and often it is also a timely encourager knowing we are being held in the prayers of others at this time each day.
As well as setting aside a time for pray, it is also worth considering a place for prayer. That is not to say this will be the only place you will ever pray, but having a place for pray were you can be surrounded by some supportive symbols or where there are other reminders to aid, inspire and encourage you in your prayer. Jesus urged his followers when they prayed to “go to your room and shut the door.” [v] Christian writer and retreat leader Margaret Silf[vi] talks of us each needing an “attic space”. A place were both spiritually and physically we can go and be alone with God and attend to our soul’s needs as well as holding others in prayer can become a source of great.
Time and places set aside for prayer are important sources for our ongoing life as disciples and followers of Jesus Christ but we must also heed Saint Paul when he says “pray continually and in all circumstances give thanks”. The Christian life is to be a way and life of prayer. The Celtic Christians with their many blessing prayers for their daily activities can teach us how we might use our daily activities as a spring board to pray. While the Rule of Saint Columba challenges us to “Pray constantly for those who annoy you."[vii] A rule of life where prayer has a high value can at times of human frailty act as a practical reminder, a guide as to how to live in partnership with Christ and one another. Community theologian Ann Morisy[viii], discerns that spirituality means rehearsing (continually practicing) in our hearts, minds and souls, ”an alternative performance” from that of profit, power and status. As we endeavour to keep our rule of life and seek to model a devotional life we will be enabled to beginning to offer “an alternative performance” to the world around enable ourselves and others to learn to become more fully aware of God’s continual presence.
[i] Thessalonians 5:15-18
[ii] James Montgomery “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire” H&P 557
[iii] See Thomas Merton’s “The Life of Saint Bernard”
[iv] Rule for a new brother ANON – DLT 1986
[v] Matthew 6:6
[vi] See Margaret Silf’s various books e.g. Land marks; Taste and See: Explorations in prayer
[vii] Rule of St Columba 6th Century: Rule 11
[viii] Ann Morisy- speaking in March 2006 at the London Churches seminar focused on 2012 Olympics; see also her books such as Journeying out and Beyond the good Samaritan
‘We endeavour to acknowledge God’s gifts to us of time, talents, money and possessions and, through God’s grace, be able stewards of these.’
Living in a society where change seems to be on us at every turn can make this one of the most difficult aspects of a rule of life to get right. The ability to spin plates seems to be an essential requirement of life as we juggle with our diaries, our bank balances, our work and family commitments – the list is endless. Then of course, how do we come to a decision on levels of our financial giving to those causes we feel drawn to support, our attitude toward eco-friendly living and sustainability of our planet. And added pressure comes from our observations of others who seem to be able to manage these things much better that ourselves.
First and foremost, we are called to be human beings. The fact that Jesus was born amongst us tells us that it is ok to be human and that in our humanity we will not always get the right balance in all things and the clue lies in the words ‘we endeavour to.’
If we are honest with ourselves, particularly if we regularly practise the examen, we will know when the balance is not right. We will know if we are not giving the best of ourselves because we are too tired to be attentive to each other or to God; we will know the weight that the chains of possessions have placed around our shoulders; we will know if we are withholding ourselves and our talents deliberately.
Take the time to think carefully about our use of time, talents, money and possessions and try and not blame others for our own misuse of them when really we need is a more gently disciplined approach which releases and liberates us rather than gives us yet one more stick to beat ourselves with.
There is truth in the old saying ‘think deeply, speak gently, love much, laugh aloud, work hard, give freely and be kind’ which resonates deeply with John Wesley’s advice to:
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”