Living in Rhythm and Balance – Br. Luke Ditewig

This sermon is part of a Lenten preaching series on “Growing a Rule of Life.

Preaching SeriesSQRules of Life & the Rhythms of Nature – Br. James Koester
Our Relationship with God – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Our Relationship with Self – Br. Mark Brown
Our Relationship with Others – Br. David Vryhof
Our Relationship with Creation – Br. Keith Nelson
Living in Rhythm and Balance – Br. Luke Ditewig


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Br. Luke DitewigMark 1:29-39
Philippians 4:8-9

This Lent we’ve been reflecting on Growing a Rule of Life, a list of goals and practices of how to live well with gardening as the primary image. We have considered various relational garden plots in which to grow our relationship with God, with ourselves, with others, and with creation. Today we conclude by looking at the whole, looking to Jesus for how to balance these relationships, and for many of us reviewing the personal rule we’ve drafted with suggestions for how to live in rhythm.

Touching your neck or chest, feel your heart beat. We are rhythm at the core. Whether relaxed or stressed, the heart pulses our beat, sounds the rhythm of our life’s dance. Rhythm is the pattern of presence and absence of sound, of notes and rests, long and short, more and less, doing and refraining, ebb and flow. Rule of life may also be considered rhythm of life. What’s your beat? What’s the tempo? What are the steps or style of your dance? Where’s the emphasis? As in music, rests, the seeming absence, define notes and create the rhythm.

What was Jesus’ rhythm? How does his life inform how to live? Jesus went to the synagogue, worshiping God in community on the Sabbath. In our gospel lesson, Jesus is just leaving and he goes to the house of Simon, one of his disciples. Jesus goes to synagogue, spends time with friends, and he responds to those in needs. Many crowd the house that evening, and he heals them.

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Jesus knew what was coming. People would gather with requests. The “to do” list would sprout. Jesus knew the pain and questions of his own human heart would be present. Jesus knew waiting with God to be primary and sustaining. Jesus stopped and went away to pray. Jesus taught in the synagogue and on the road, healed at home, and people were constantly coming to him asking more. Jesus’ rhythm has lots of activity, lots of serving, and significantly, Jesus stops to pray.

Jesus also invites us to stop and rest with him. Sometimes he sends the disciples off ahead of him while he dismisses the crowd. “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. … my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28, 30) Like animals yoked together to share the work, Jesus says he will work with us, easing the burden.

How does Jesus do this? Not simply taking over. Jesus teaches modeling that amid hard work and relating to many, stopping to rest and pray is humanity’s natural rhythm, how we were created to live well. Jesus invites us to be his companions and friends, choosing a life yoked to him, a life regulated by God, or we might say following a pattern, a rule, a rhythm of God.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way: “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:29-30 in The Message)

Choosing to be regulated, to grow a rule, a pattern, a rhythm of life is challenging. As with a garden, it takes planning what’s appropriate and possible, establishing boundaries, providing nutrients, tender care and pruning. It requires a lot of showing up and patience. Growing plants or a rule of life is also learning the “unforced rhythms of grace.” We cannot control what is grown. We invest but we do not produce. God gives the growth. We receive what we do not deserve and often can’t request. Keeping company with Jesus, we face again and again that we are dust, learning humility, that we are not God.

With humble honesty and gentle grace, I invite you to consider the rule of life you are planning, and perhaps review what you’ve thought or written about through this series. Here are three suggestions.

First, focus on freedom. Does what you plan feel like increasing burden? It’s supposed to be helpful. The point is becoming more fully alive. Philippians reminds us to seek what is honorable, just, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. These bring us freedom. Following Jesus is challenging and incremental. Beware of taking on too much. Be gentle with yourself. Start small, and ask for help.

Second, move and adapt. Planting the same thing in the same place depletes the soil. Changing what and where we grow enables further growth. A monastic virtue, and for some communities one of the vows, is stability, which comes from the word “to stand.” It’s hard to stand upright for long periods without moving. In the words of Br. Michael Casey, a Cistercian monk: “Stability is not immobility. It is the knack of remaining constant in the midst of change. … the important thing is to keep moving forward, to keep adapting to changed circumstances and to re-orient oneself toward the goal.”[i] A rule of life changes us, and it too will need adapting. Hold it lightly. See what emerges. Watch the weather. With the goal in mind, adapt to the life you receive.

Third, dance with others. Relationships help us stay in rhythm, help us balance. Do part of your rule with others. Share a practice. Perhaps a different person for each garden plot: relationship with God, with yourself, with creation. Notice together what you discover. Or stop to reflect with someone or some group about the experience as a whole, what it’s like living into your rhythm, your rule of life.

Every day presents many choices. A rule, a rhythm, helps us regulate and balance. What will you seek to grow or how will you dance in this season of life you’ve been given? Jesus says: Dance with me; follow my lead. “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

[i] Michael Casey, ocso (2005) Strangers to the City: Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, p191.

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  1. Joyce Pipkin on March 27, 2019 at 17:42

    This is an amazing blessing – Thank you SO much!

  2. Jeanne DeFazio on March 27, 2019 at 11:40

    This really hit me strong today!

    Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way: “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:29-30 in The Message)


  3. Beverly Cone on March 27, 2019 at 06:56

    Wow! I just found my original copy of “Growing a Rule of Life”, completely filled out with my thoughts and prayers in 2016, as I was just adjusting to living in my CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Center). Now, 3 years later, I am going to “watch, answer and share” , using another copy of the same book, which I also just found! This is going to be my study in the coming weeks – see what progress I’ve made in my new life, how I’ve changed, and what new goals I need at this stage. Once again, SSJE, thank you.

  4. Jaan Sass on March 2, 2017 at 16:59

    Do some of it others is difficult but I do need to show my rule to others. I am my own hard task master and have sent myself up for failure numerous times. I need a rule that is balanced, I am accountable for and has my whole person engaged.

  5. Mark Bruce on March 23, 2016 at 12:40

    The “unforced” rhythms is a very helpful consideration.
    Echoes what Paul says in Eph 2:10 that God “prepared
    beforehand” good works for us to do, “that we should walk in them”; I don’t need to invent these works, just going about my life mindful of Him and the works present themselves to me —- I pray that He opens my eyes to be sensitive to needs of those I meet, strangers or well-known

  6. Tudy on March 21, 2016 at 11:42

    Such a helpful summary, Luke…very readable and practical and realistic. Much needed as I plan a flexible rule of life that will not only challenge but protect my journey forward. Thank you.

  7. Stan on March 20, 2016 at 19:39

    I am with all of you above. Br. Luke, your words are gentle, saving words of Grace. As I sit here comfortably with the music of Liquid Mind flowing through me, the beauty of your message intensifies as I contemplate it. I must weave some of this wisdom into my own garden of life.

  8. Charlotte on March 20, 2016 at 06:53

    Thank you Br. Luke and all the other monks at SSJE! This is has been such an inspiring and most helpful Lenten series. Our small study groups at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Littlle Rock have all benefitted enormously. The reflections and sermons of the brothers were a wonderful resource and great reinforcement. Bless each of you for this important ministry and what you faithfully do to share to the glory and word of God as we continue on our daily journeys of renewed faith and growth in Christ’s love.

    Always in gratitude! Charlotte

  9. Elizabeth Hardy on March 18, 2016 at 16:14

    I really liked that different phrasing of Matthew 11:28-30. It is a relief to think that keeping company with Jesus can remove things from my life that are heavy or ill-fitting. Thanx Luke.

  10. Eugene Wright on March 18, 2016 at 00:05

    In developing the rule of life after this exercise, I will definitely include and start practicing REST. I see that rest is important in all we do as long as it is not and excuse for slothfulness. I will endeavor to be rounded by plating different crops and plants in my garden so as not to deplete the nutrients in the soil. Somethings I would do for a season and others I would rotate.

  11. Ruth West on March 17, 2016 at 19:30

    Br. Luke, I needed this. So many statements just spoke to my needs. I know I need to be more patient with myself, especially when I have, in my mind, taken on more than I can realistically do. I want to be more consistent, more able to take a prayer break more often than I do, allow Jesus to model my activities instead of plunging headlong into tasks which drain me. I truly desire to be free and trusting to His leading, accept His grace, and enjoy the rhythms of my life. He is my Strength, my life, and my salvation. Praised be His name!

  12. Elaine Dando on March 17, 2016 at 12:51

    You have given me such hope. I thought stability was about staying in one place! It’s great to consider flexibility and movement in a rule. Thank you.

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