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Draft a written Rule of Life that will enrich and enliven your relationships.

Phase 6: Create a Solid Garden Plot
Workbook Exercise: My Rule of Life

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During this course, we have been exploring the elements of a Rule of Life and how to create your own Rule of Life. Now we come to the exciting bit, which is bringing all the elements together and actually writing down a Rule of Life for yourself. And I would say right from the start that this isn’t a task so much as kind of fun. It’s something to really enjoy and saying, “Gosh, I really long to become more the person that God created me to be and I just know that if I can put certain things in place in my life that they will enable me to, as it were, be free enough to receive the grace of God,” because it is all about God and what God is longing to give to us. All we are really doing with a Rule of Life, rather like a gardener, is helping to create a terrain, helping to create enough space and other things to allow a young plant to receive the sun and the rain, and that’s really the model, I think, for a Rule of Life. We put certain things in place so that we are more able to receive what God has to give to us and of course, that gift is the gift of life itself, the abundant life that Jesus promised us.

So when you’re making this Rule of Life, first of all do it with a certain lightness of touch rather like creating a garden saying, “Hey, it would be good to do that – let’s see what that will be like,” and if it doesn’t work – well, change it. So make the Rule of Life do it with pencil so you can erase it later and say, “I thought that would be helpful, but actually, if I’m realistic, I simply won’t be able to do that, so I won’t do that.” I think God would just be delighted for your desire. Your desire to make of your life something which kind of honors God by putting in these elements of a Rule of Life, which will open you up to receive all the wonderful gifts that God has to give you.

So be patient, try it out, see how it works and be realistic, and be full of hope, and full of joy, because God is the one who, I believe, has encouraged you to do this because God so loves you that he longs for this deeper relationship with you and to give you that life, which is his great gift to each one of us.

– Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Phase 6: Create a Solid Garden Plot – Compilation

What boundaries would it be helpful to put in place for yourself?

Phase 6: Create a Solid Garden Plot
Workbook Exercise: My Rule of Life

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So you can’t have openness without limitation, because without limitation then I would say if it is my own limits, and I don’t know my limits, or I don’t (observe) them, then I am just everywhere and there is nothing other than me everywhere. If that makes any sense. Where I end something else begins and that immediately introduces the notion of mystery, whether it is God or another person. In a rule we also talk about when we are relating to other people not trying to make them into images of ourselves or making these demands of control. That requires openness to another point-of-view, just anything other than me. I have a limit and therefore I have needs. I need other people and I also need rules, for a lack of a better word – structure, guidelines. I need a container for which to hold me, which I think is what attracts me to this life and what attracts me to having a Rule. I have resisted this as much as anyone of having rules imposed or structure. I mean I’d love to just lay in bed all day if I could and do absolutely nothing. But would I have much of a life or do much with my life that I feel is a divine gift? Absolutely not. So I need rules, I need structure in order to go further and further. And I find that for me what begins as sort of resistance to that, you know, I think first approaching this need for rules and structure hesitantly and reluctantly more because I have to and eventually tipping over to the point where I do it because I want to, because I see the benefit of doing it.

– Br John Braught

How will you direct your energies towards that which gives life?

Phase 6: Create a Solid Garden Plot
Workbook Exercise: My Rule of Life

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Well, I think a helpful metaphor for giving things up is pruning. The reason plants are pruned is to, number one, sometimes give them shape, a better form visually. But it also redirects growth. If you prune a branch from a tree or a shrub or a vine, it will actually stimulate growth in another direction. So the monastic life is about saying no to some things in order that our energies can be directed in other directions. The vows, especially celibacy and poverty, are about saying no to certain things – and saying no to partnerships and sexuality expressed with others is a way of directing generative energies in other directions. Saying no to the acquisition of wealth and property is a way of experiencing life in community and sharing everything one has with other people, and not being distracted by the need to acquire wealth and status and power in those terms.

– Br. Mark Brown

Living in Rhythm and Balance – Br. Luke Ditewig

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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

Growing a Rule of Life: To subscribe to a daily morning email with a short video and download a PDF of the accompanying workbook enter your name and email.
More information here: SSJE.org/growrule


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.

How might others support you on this journey?

Phase 6: Create a Solid Garden Plot
Workbook Exercise: My Rule of Life

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We need companions on the journey. We need people who we feel safe with, who we trust. We need to be with each other and to experience the wonders of life, to share them as well as to share the heartache and the sorry and the challenge. As one mentor told me, God has given us our companions. We may ask for others but most often, our companions are already given; we have neighbors. But it is a choice to interact, it is a choice to trust, it is a choice to invest to be with them, and to also let them change us, to receive the gifts that they have to offer. That’s part of this practice of life. That’s part of becoming more like God is to be choosing to be in relationship and to be interactive.

– Br. Luke Ditewig

How will your Rule help you grow into the person you can be?

Phase 6: Create a Solid Garden Plot
Workbook Exercise: My Rule of Life

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So a community that has shaped me profoundly before coming to this Society has been a church community called “The Crossing” here in Boston. And a chant that we used to sing at the beginning of worship with “The Crossing,” the words are something like, “Take O take me as I am. Summon out what I shall be. Set your seal upon my heart and live in me.” And so when I think what challenges me personally about living a Rule of Life, I think about one challenge being complete trust in who I am, what I am just in this moment, as being completely beloved of God. So this, “Take O take me as I am,” part of the chant, the reality now in this moment is that I am enough, that God loves me completely, and in a way, that’s it. I can rejoice in the beauty, the truth, of that reality. And also, the work isn’t finished. That God has envisioned so much more for the unfolding of my life, for the ways that I am to give expression to God’s kingdom in the world, to the ways that I am destined to come to greater self-understanding, self-integration that I haven’t yet. So the “summon out what I shall be” part of the chant.

So I think that with a Rule of Life, with a balanced Rule of Life, there is a really healthy and whole holding of both a person’s present reality as completely beloved of God, and that there is so much more to unfold in the future that God has in store for us.

– Br. Keith Nelson

How does gratitude show up in your life?

Phase 6: Create a Solid Garden Plot
Workbook Exercise: My Rule of Life

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I think I’d start by saying – I’d begin with a sense of deep gratitude for the gift of life itself. That we are, I am, these living beings that God created and the gift of life is a gift. And I think the best way to say thank you to the giver of that gift is to use the gift and cherish the gift and enjoy the gift. For me, a Rule of Life or building a trellis, which is a kind of Rule of Life, is about optimizing the conditions for my own life that give me a kind of balance and maximizes exposure to light, to use the plant metaphor growing on a trellis. It is a way of providing stability in my life when other things are unstable or unpredictable. The trellis also in some ways has its own integrity, its own beauty as a structure. I am thinking of a trellis in the garden; in the wintertime you just see the trellis and the plant is dormant. And sometimes we go through these winter times of life when life feels a little dormant but we have this structure, the daily rhythm, the daily routine, that we do anyway and it has its own beauty, even if we are not quite connecting with it in the moment.

– Br. Mark Brown

What has sustained you through challenging seasons in the past?

Phase 6: Create a Solid Garden Plot
Workbook Exercise: My Rule of Life

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In this phase of growing a Rule of Life, we’re looking at how we can grow a Rule which will help us through all the seasons of life. I had the great joy of living for several years at our country monastery, Emery House, where I’m sitting now, and during those years it was particularly wonderful to sit every day in our chapel looking out over the beautiful countryside and as the months passed, seeing the trees change and everything take on the color of the changing seasons. And in the summer particularly, and perhaps the spring, it was particularly beautiful and it was a joy to be out in the gardens helping grow fruit and take care of the property. But I remember when the New England winter came, everything changed and it became really quite bleak and cold and I really didn’t want to go out at all. And in a kind of interesting parallel, I think growing a Rule of Life is very similar to that, that at times it’s actually very easy to live the life of faith. Prayer comes to us naturally, we feel drawn to God, and we look at God’s creation and our hearts are filled with joy.

But there are other times in our life when life becomes more barren, more bare. Perhaps we have experienced a bereavement or a change in our plans or our hopes. In those times, it’s much more difficult to embrace life. But actually, in my own experience, it is exactly during those times when having a Rule of Life in place becomes so important. It is then that we really need to turn to those rhythms, those disciplines which we have grown and established, because they will uphold us and they will support us and strengthen us when we feel that life is very, very difficult.

There is a hymn, which I love, which we sing at Easter. Most of the hymns at Easter are joyful hymns. There is one which is in more of a minor key and you will probably know it, it’s called “Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain.” And the underlying imagery of that hymn is that, when we look out at a wintry scene, it seems that everything is dead, but actually underneath the surface something actually very powerful and wonderful is happening and something is slowly growing and when spring comes it bursts out to life again. And that hymn talks about particularly those times when the fields of our heart are dead and bare and we feel really quite desolate. But it’s at those times, when we remain faithful to our commitment to our Rule, it is precisely then that we can experience the wonder and the miracle, as the hymn puts it, of love coming again like wheat which springs up green.

I think this phase of looking at our Rule of Life encourages us to think of the rhythms of our own lives. The rhythms, the summer, the winter, the spring, the autumn of our own lives and how we can maintain our life of faith, our relationship with God, our love for God, during those difficult times and to ask who can companion us during those times and who can help us to cultivate the garden of our lives through every season.

– Br. Geoffrey Tristram

How will you find a healthy and meaningful connection with the natural world?

Phase 5: My Relationship with Creation
Workbook Exercise: My Creation Collage

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One of the things that I have discovered gardening here at Emery House is if they are always planting the same thing in the same place that slowly but surely the soil is depleted and, interestingly enough, once the soil is depleted, the only thing that will thrive in it are the weeds. So in order to keep the weeds out you have to constantly be renewing the soil. So as you think of your life this week, you might want to think about creating your own collage. Think of where is the good soil in your life, where is the stony soil, and where is the soil full of thistles. And as you do that, look at your life and see where is the balance (where is the good soil?), and where are you out of balance (where is the soil full of thorns or the soil full of stones?). So you might want to think what is your relationship with money, is that “in balance”? Is that producing abundantly? Is that producing abundant fruits or is that controlling you? Where is your relationship with consumerism? Where is your relationship with food? Is that in balance or out of balance? And if you want to restore balance to those, what exactly do you need to put into it. What exactly do you need to think about, pray about, ponder about your relationship with money, food, consumerism and begin to restore balance there. Just as the gardener is constantly trying to keep the balance or maintain the balance or restore balance to the good soil so that, like the gardener, the soil of your life can product abundantly.

– Br. James Koester