Week 1 Reading: Rule of Life & Rhythm of Nature

Understanding a Rule of Life

The Psalmist says, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows God’s handiwork’ (Psalm 19:1). We believe that the rhythms and patterns of life that we see in the natural world around us can inform our own lifestyles and life choices. Growing a ‘Rule of Life’ can help us to think about how we want to live, and help us recognize which patterns and rhythms will bring real life, the abundant life that Jesus promised.

A reading from Soul Feast, by Marjorie Thompson:

Certain kinds of plants need support in order to grow properly. Tomatoes need stakes, and beans must attach themselves to suspended strings… Without support, these plants would collapse in a heap on the ground. Their blossoms would not have the space and sun they need to flourish, and their fruits would rot in contact with the soil. We would be unable to enjoy their beauty and sustenance. When it comes to spiritual growth, human beings are much like these plants. We need structure and support. Otherwise… the fruit of the Spirit in us gets tangled and is susceptible to corruption… We need structure in order to have enough space, air, and light to flourish. Structure gives us the freedom to grow as we are meant to. There is a name in Christian tradition for the kind of structure that supports our spiritual growth. It is called a rule of life. A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness… It is meant to help us establish a rhythm of daily living, a basic order within which new freedoms can grow.

Reprinted from Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life by Marjorie J. Thompson. Copyright 1997. Used by permission of Westminster John Knox Press. www.wjkbooks.com.

What is a Rule of Life?

The word ‘rule’ comes from the Latin word, regula, from which we get ‘regularize’ and ‘regulate.’ Keeping a Rule of Life is a way to regularize our lives in order to stay on an intentionally-chosen path. A Rule of Life is not just a set of rules; rather, it is a supportive framework to gently guide us on our way.

  • A Rule of Life allows us to live with intention and purpose in the present moment. It helps us clarify our most important values, relationships, dreams, and goals.
  • It is meant to be simple, realistic, flexible, and achievable. It is a purposeful tool to help us grow into a more meaningful life with God.
  • The first Rules of Life grew out of Christian monastic communities in the deserts of Egypt during the 4th and 5th centuries. Communities as well as individuals have benefitted from following this ancient practice of keeping a Rule of Life.

Exercise: Other Garden Plots

Before we begin planting our gardens, we may want to take a stroll around the block and explore other gardens to see what works well and what doesn’t work well.

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Watch Videos in this Phase:

What is a Rule of Life?
Why write and keep a Rule of Life?
How could a Rule of Life be helpful to you right now?
How might the rhythms you observe in nature inform the way you live? (Feb 10)
In the garden of your life, what is thriving and what is not?
When you connect with nature, what makes it meaningful?
What ‘seeds’ have you collected for your garden plot?


  1. Bryan Cook on March 7, 2019 at 10:40

    I need to be ever vigilent in respecting my own boundaries, my garden wall, and respecting the walls of others. This does not mean those walls should be closed; rather, the communication across and through them must be more selective and not a reflection of my own pride. I must be more patient a listener and not always offer solutions unless asked for them.

  2. Linda on May 14, 2016 at 11:49

    Seeds need BALANCED soil, too much or too little of anything and they won’t sprout. Plants need things regulated by TIME, i.e., water at specific times. Plants need SUPPORT friends, i.e. beneficial insects, complimentary plants, to keep the bad things out and the good things coming. So I need balance in how I consume, choices I make, how I relate to others. I need good stewardship of time to not have stress, and benefit others. I need to bear FRUIT, by helping others, Plants need lots of sunshine, a good relationship with GOD.

  3. Sue Turner on February 18, 2016 at 19:59

    As a Daughter of the King I have tried to live a rule of life, but am anxious to tweek it and expand upon it during this lent.

  4. Patricia on February 17, 2016 at 09:43

    Here in the northern part of the USA, I love how the winter seems to be made for going inside, on multiple levels. When the weather is harsh, one naturally gravitates indoors. Being indoors invites you go further “inside” — to take the time to be still and consciously connect to Spirit. Winter is thus a great opportunity to establish the regular visits with God, which can then be maintained even when the weather starts to thaw!

  5. Frank on February 15, 2016 at 21:20

    Actually an awful lot of seeds need light to germinate. Cover them with earth and they just rot. These are usually the fine, tiny seeds- an old rule of thumb is to plant seeds at the same depth as the seeds’ own thickness. Big fat seeds have lots of energy stored up inside them, but little dust-like ones need to get that energy from the sun right away. Seeds are amazing- perfectly programmed little engines of growth and creation. The trick with them is to understand that each is designed for specific conditions. To raise them we have to learn where they came from and where they flourished. Very very few will thrive everywhere in every circumstance.

    • Frank on February 16, 2016 at 06:14

      I think a rule has to be suited to our “growing conditions” to be successful. When I used to try to pray the office, for example, at set times in the day it never worked and I felt like a failure and it became another tedious obligation. When I fit it into my daily living, it “took” and became something I looked forward to and even depended upon.When you’re at the monastery, much of the holiness of the experience comes through because corporate prayer is used to bracket all the things we have to do anyway, like eating and sleeping. I love the guy online who saw a link to God in watering his little bamboo plant in his office. This is the very essence of a rule- it consecrates our daily life and duties.

      • Sue on March 15, 2017 at 02:59

        Hi ,I’m not sure if you are still following but I really like and can relate to this description
        Thank you

    • Peter McFarland on June 9, 2019 at 17:42

      This is beautiful.

  6. CINDY on February 14, 2016 at 11:21

    All seeds need darkness to start. Isn’t that interesting? When we go through a dark period, it may be that we are germinating, not that we are forgotten. Instead of moping, we should contemplate what beautiful seedling will sprout after the dark period, what it will grow into, how it will be nourished, the beauty it will bring to others, and the fact that without that dark period it would not have emerged.

  7. […] Phase 1: Rule of Life & Rhythm of Nature Workbook Exercise: Other Garden Plots […]

  8. The rev.dr. carey sloan aojn on February 12, 2016 at 17:16

    seeds gathered for the garden include 1. stillness,2.awareness, 3.observation 4.patience,5.acceptance, 6.Willingness to learn more, 7seardh for wholeness-worship exercise and meditation.

  9. Eugene Wright on February 12, 2016 at 15:33

    In the garden of my life a few plants are thriving. My relationship with God. I spend time everyday reading God’s word, meditating on what I read, pray and be quiet before doing anything else. I spend time in corporate worship on Sundays and when ever there is a service. At church I give my time serving in outreach. and different committees and organizations. I serve on a neighborhood committee established by the Mayor of the city where our church is located. Some things in my garden of life that are presently not thriving or I should replace are; Procrastination and over analysis before I make a decision or take action. Because of this I have been known to have lost out on opportunities. Also I need to pay attention to my health and take preventive methods to help me healthy and strong to do God’s will.

  10. Marie on February 12, 2016 at 07:58

    I’m very much enjoying this Lenten program. It already has given me much to think about. I tried to look at the sample “Other Garden Plots” but the image is quite blurry. Is there a way to make it clearer?

    • Reviewer on February 12, 2016 at 10:37

      If you click on the image, it will open to a larger size and it should be easier to view.

  11. michele b. on February 11, 2016 at 15:48

    Odd as it may seem to some, I find the ongoing warm weather here tiring. It gives us (those who live in the far southern reaches of the US) no respite from heat and no sense of the dormancy that winter brings to others. When I was younger, we had real winters — not snow, but cold days and nights. We wore coats. Now we seem to be lucky to wear a sweater past noon. And our drought returns. I feel like my garden is fairly barren right now — perhaps that’s in keeping with the disarray of my spiritual life. I think of the vineyard keeper who must prune for the grapes to grown. I think creating a rule will help me prune away some deadwood that is obscuring the path.

  12. Ellie on February 11, 2016 at 08:45

    The life cycle, cycles of nature are consistent. By February, winter is in full force and I get tired, but the days are getting a little longer, and the light is a little brighter. This makes me feel better but it still seems like spring is far off. Also, technology can be good but is also intrusive in unanticipated ways. I fear it changes perceptions not always in truthful ways.

    • Annette on February 13, 2016 at 11:23

      I have the same kind of thoughts and feelings at this time of year. The 10 degree temperature and the height of the snow seem like barriers to fully living

      • Gloria on February 13, 2016 at 16:28

        Isn’t the cold and snow there to remind me that I am still in winter hibernation/contemplation mode. It keeps me in sync with the season. The seeds have been chosen but the soil is yet to be prepared for planting. I’m still learning what my seeds need to flourish.

  13. Harvey on February 11, 2016 at 07:56

    Thanks SSJE! Being new to the “Rule,” this is moving. Right in front of me I see our mini-bamboo plant which every so often needs our watering because it exists in an artificial environment. Hadn’t thought much of it before; but, now I see it representing the watering of the Holy Spirit that we all frequently need , and I’ll not think of watering our plant in the same way again.

    • Catherine on February 15, 2016 at 12:16

      When I read your comment, a place I used to work came to mind–a windowless room that held desks for several people. We each worked to make our little bit of space our own, but ultimately, the environment felt artificial. So many people do live and carry out work in artificial spaces, and at least for me, it was easy to get numb to the fact that the lack of sunlight and connection to nature in those spaces could contribute to keeping me numb to the Holy Spirit–it’s easy just to let the days pass without a sense of direction–going to work in the dark, and then getting home in the dark, especially in winter. And yet, there’s your bamboo plant, growing away in its artificial space. That makes me ask myself who and what I need to call on to help me tend my own space, and to help provide the needed water and nutrients to grow, even in less than welcoming spaces.

  14. […] Phase 1: Rule of Life & Rhythm of Nature Workbook Exercise: Other Garden Plots […]

  15. Gail Gerstenlauer on February 10, 2016 at 22:26

    I also appreciate the perspective; right now I find myself simply trying to be present when praying, to say, here I am, waiting for what comes.

  16. Nancy Hughes on February 10, 2016 at 17:21

    I appreciate this perspective, and it evokes a lovely image for me. Thank you.

  17. John McGinty on February 10, 2016 at 09:18

    I love the way the garden by the house simply receives what nature offers. The gentle rain, the torrent, the peaceful snows, the summer sun: it is all received as it is sent. Some of it challenges growth. Some of it enhances strength and possibility. All of it, in sum, makes the garden to be what it is meant to be in God’s sight.
    I would like to be able to receive what comes throughout life with that same spirit of quiet (and ultimately grateful) acceptance.

    • Elsie on February 10, 2016 at 14:52

      Thank you for this reflection. It strikes a need in me.

  18. […] Phase 1: Rule of Life & Rhythm of Nature Workbook Exercise: Other Garden Plots […]

  19. Robert Brown on February 9, 2016 at 21:49

    I found this start of Lent most useful in contemplating a rule of life.

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