I have long been interested in the contemplative traditions of the world’s faiths, Christian monasticism being especially fascinating. There is something appealing to me about the idea of being set apart from the world while also responding deeply to it in a prayerful, compassionate way as monks, nuns, ascetics, and anchorites have done for centuries. When I began returning to my Christian roots this past year, one of the things that again drew me were the lives and teachings of contemplatives, ancient and contemporary; people who emptied themselves, disciplined their daily lives and became enraptured with love of God and neighbor.
I had been wanting to bring a more contemplative focus to my life for some time, mostly because I like structure when it comes to my spiritual life. But I have also wondered a lot about how living this kind of life would inform my experiences as a queer person of color and vice versa. How could living an intentional, contemplative life enable me to fully live my truth every day? How could these practices lead me to be a voice for change in my communities?
I was familiar with monastic rules – guidelines by which Christian contemplative communities have lived and worked for centuries – but I had first heard the phrase “rule of life” used in a Lenten series produced by the brothers at the Society of St. John the Evangelist. The monks publish a number of different articles, sermons, and video series around their own Rule, showing how this way of life is not just for monastics; laypeople can develop their own Rule to order their lives. At the time, I was very busy with my last semester of university, so I couldn’t commit to doing the series as intentionally as I would have liked, and resolved to do it later.
Now with college behind me and the summer wide open, I resolved to start making some changes to my daily habits and lifestyle, and I became really attracted again to this idea of a rule of life. It was partially due to my own unease with unstructured free time, something I’d have a lot of between graduating and starting my new job, which I won’t be starting until August. I find myself restless, bored, and at worst, depressed with lots of time on my hands. I wanted to give some sense of order to my life, and a Rule provided that. More importantly, I was longing to move into a way of life and prayer that would enable me to see God in all the workings of life and bring a deeper sense of connection with the people in my life and those I serve.
It’s been about three weeks since I began this process of writing a Rule, and contemplating my needs has already provided some interesting insights about myself:
I am most in tune with God during worship.
I don’t make enough time for self-care and creative expression as I should.
I want to make more space to study and think deeply about Scripture, especially the portions that confuse and upset me.
I struggle at times with being disciplined and focused.
I am my best self when I am living a simple life, with minimal possessions.
I value joy as a virtue.
As much as I struggle with community, I know that it is something I really need.
I want more time to unplug.
Sitting with all this has led me to create this very simple, seven point Rule:
- Worship – I commune with God regularly in prayer, adoration, and Holy Eucharist.
- Study – I nourish my soul with the food of God’s Word and the writings of saints and holy people.
- Silence – I listen to the voice of God in my life by practicing discernment and intentional silence.
- Simplicity – I strive to be in the habit of living simply within my means and not wanting for luxuries.
- Service – I take care of my neighbor and their needs with my labor, my time, my prayers, my money, and my space.
- Self-Care – I recognize when I need outward and inward healing and strength and make time for it.
- Joy – I cultivate joy and contentment in my daily life.
I really didn’t want to get out of hand when writing this, because I know that my mind has a way of doing that. I may add more later if necessary, but for now these seven points (interestingly, 5 of which begin with an ‘S’) are things that I value, practices that give my life rhythm and balance.