Letter from the Fellowship of Saint John – Martha Holden

Developing a Rule of Life

My first attempt at a rule of life listed everything that I thought I could be doing in order to have a sound (self-satisfying) [impressive] spiritual life.  My second attempt was three sentences long and abstract. Then I happened upon Basil Pennington’s The School of Love: the Cistercian Way to Healing.  At the very end of the book I found two pages which outlined a method for developing a rule of life.  I tried them and cut through the clutter.  I also found a solution to my biggest fear: that in my desire for spiritual excellence (self-satisfaction) [being impressive] I would strangle my life in God with scrupulosity.  Pennington’s method suggested the inclusion, right up front, of provisions for changing the rule.

Meanwhile I was reading a chapter of the SSJE Rule every night before turning off the light.    As my rule took form,  I began to  follow the practice of the Brothers and read a section of it out loud six days a week during the Daily Office.   I heard whatever was less than true and could shift the language to keep the line taut and the stretch enlivening.

Because I was in a process of discernment, I was gifted with someone to be “the overseer of my rule.” He encouraged me to be specific and concrete about the aspirations in each section of the rule. I didn’t like that idea, but I did it and felt more like a grown-up honestly engaged in disciplined movement toward God, rather than a “make believe” artist.

After eight years my rule is still changing. The magnitude and pace of the changes seems to have slowed, but still, occasionally, the floor evaporates beneath my feet and I find myself on a deeper level.

My relationship with God is alive.  That life informs my rule and refreshes it.  I love my rule and all that it offers me.


  1. Gresh Lattimore on March 15, 2011 at 10:56

    Thanks so much, Martha, for sharing your 8 year quest for a rule in your life. Thus far the Brothers have been sharing how challenging it was for them to redraft their Rule to make it more meaningful and present for them. For us lay folk the challenge is even more daunting for all the reasons you mentioned, and, for myself, the sense that I would not be measuring up to their Rule even in my best moments! Yet you have overcome this feeling by allowing yourself to refine your Rule continuously and not be afraid to do so! I see that as being very true to yourself who, as for all us humans, are in a constant process of growth and change. Thank you for clarifying this truth for me.

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