Signs of Life: Saturday

Life is lived right now, in this moment. That’s an important reminder for all of us, because we tend to think, “If just this would happen, then I would be happy.” When we put a condition on our lives, we miss out on the present moment because we’re waiting for something else to happen.

– Br. David Vryhof, SSJE

Way of Love: Daily Practice

Praise God for your life – through words or by doing something that brings you joy.

Share your experience in the comments here

Share my Rule

Share my Rule of Life

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Week 6 Reading: Create a Solid Garden Plot

Developing your Rule of Life

Sometimes prayer comes to us naturally; we feel drawn to God, and when we look at God’s creation our hearts are filled with joy. But there are other times when life feels barren or strained. In those times, it’s much more difficult to embrace life. This is exactly when having a Rule of Life in place becomes so important. It is then that we really need to turn (or return) to those rhythms or disciplines which we have grown and established, so that they can uphold, support, and strengthen us when we feel that life has become very, very difficult.

A reading from The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist: ‘The Rule as a Guide to Personal Reflection’

A spiritual practice with deep roots and a close connection with monastic life is that of creating a personal Rule of Life. A rule of life is not a rigid law that makes daily life into the working of a machine. Rather, it is a kind of constitution or bill of rights that makes sure that all the different elements of a Spirit-filled life in Christ are valued and given their due place in the whole. A rule recognizes that we are subject to all sorts of pressures that work to make life one-sided, and repress essential aspects of our calling.

Each individual is in some way a miniature community, subject to internal and external pressures to avoid or neglect some aspect of her or his wholeness as a member of Christ. So it is the practice of many serious Christians to make a covenant with themselves, a pattern of practice and discipline to which they commit themselves to live in as full and balanced a way as possible. This personal rule of life is not a rigid law but a constitution that helps hold together the many elements of the whole self.

Bring it all together

Now as you move on to develop your own Rule of Life, prayerfully look over your notes from each phase. Does anything stand out to you at this point? How is God asking you to live into this new season of life? How will your calendar reflect your core values? What spiritual practices will set you on the right path?

Spend some time now in silence as you reflect on this stage of the process.

Exercise: My Rule of Life

Download the excretes and begin your ‘Garden Plot’ or Rule of Life which maybe divided into four sections: your Relationship with God, your Relationship with Self, your Relationship with Others, and your Relationship with Creation. Each of these sections is divided into three rings:

The inner ring, for ‘Daily Upkeep,’ will include disciplines or practices you decide to do every day. The middle ring, for ‘Weekly Fertilizing,’ is a place to record practices that you will do each week. The outer ring, for ‘Seasonal Care,’ lists practices that are only done occasionally – annually, semi-annually, or quarterly.

Use your notes from past sessions to guide this time of reflection. For each section write down a few simple, realistic steps you can take to nurture your relationship with God, with Self, with Others, and with Creation. Decide what you will do each day, each week, and each season or year.

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Week 5 Reading: My Relationship with Creation

Observing your own practices and hopes in relation to creation

In the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1-8,18-23), Jesus is reminding us that our life is, in a sense, like that of soil. As we explore our relationship with creation, we will be considering our lives to see if they are in balance. What is the condition of the soil in your life: Is it good? Is it in balance? Or is it full of thorns or stones that will have to be removed before plants can really flourish in it? Will you have to add ‘nutrients’ to your soil? If the soil has been depleted, the only thing that will thrive in it are the weeds.

A Reading from Living in Rhythm: Following Nature’s Rule, by Br. James Koester, SSJE

From the very opening of the book of Genesis – when we see God at work, making the earth – the creation promises to offer us a direct link back to its Creator. By looking to the wonder of creation, we begin to fathom the mystery of our belonging to the God who made us, too. As people with the eyes of faith, we see in the yearly cycle of the seasons the transfiguring power of the Spirit, restoring all things in Christ who himself fills all things . . . . Restoration – the restoration of our balance with nature, as well as the restoration of the natural world itself – teaches us our own place as creatures, natural creatures, placed on this earth by a loving Creator.

Over the last few years, as we Brothers have been deepening our connection with the property at Emery House – working the land to grow food, conserving the land to restore native habitats – we’ve come to appreciate more and more just how fundamental our connection to the creation is to our lives as monks and our wholeness as human beings. We believe that living in rhythm with nature, by the structure of a Rule, helps each of us to grow into that vibrant life the Gardener dreamed when we were created.

We need to get our hands dirty. We need to be physically in touch with the creation. We need to get reconnected to nature, in a place that isn’t just manicured lawns or city parks bordered by skyscrapers. We need to experience the good ache of using our bodies in fresh air. We need honest sweat.

I think we need this because, ultimately, it reminds us who we are, that fundamental identity the Catechism defines as ‘part of God’s creation.’ The creation connects us with the Creator. It grounds us in the living rhythms of which we are a part. We remember not just that we have a body, but that we are a body – a working, interdependent, natural, physical miracle that God made. ‘For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will thank you because I am marvelously made…’ (Psalm 139:12).

We need to live in rhythm with nature because we are nature. We’re not over and above or outside of nature; we’re part of nature, we’re part of the whole ecosystem. When we live in rhythm with nature, we take our place as one part of this magnificent whole that God has made. Our own restoration is fundamentally linked with the preservation and restoration of the natural world we inhabit and of which we ourselves are a part.

As we strive to live in rhythm – as God intends us to live – we feel ourselves called into the woods, the desert wastes, beside the running waters, under the deep blue sky. We respond to the deep fellowship with nature that the Spirit urges, and which is a fundamental part of our humanity. We learn from the natural world the rhythms by which we can live richer, more human and humane lives. And when we begin to heed these rhythms, in the words of early SSJE member Father Congreve, then the Creation ‘shall become a living and personal word revealing to each of us the heart of God.’

Exercise: My Creation Collage

What does your relationship with God’s creation look like? Think about your lifestyle, what you consume, what daily choices you make, your relationship with money, food, clothing, material goods, and possessions. Where do you notice imbalance? What is there too much of in your life? What is there not enough of?

Download the exercise and use the four spaces outside the circle write or draw some ways in which you contribute to this abuse of creation, both indirectly and directly? In the inner circle write one (or more) step you will include in your rule of life to contribute to the healing of creation.
You might use the medium of collage in this exercise – Click here to see an example.

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Week 4 Reading: My Relationship with Others

Observing your own practices and hopes in relation to others

Spirituality is never a private affair. It always brings us into connection with others. We are called by Jesus to be in relationships of love, and to be loving toward others, even our enemies. The Christian message always brings us beyond those who are easy to love and challenges us to love God in the stranger, to find Christ in the outcast, in the marginalized, in the poor, in the oppressed. What can we do to express our love, and to protect and nurture love in our relationships with others?

A Reading from Rule for a New Brother, by H. Van Der Looy on ‘Following Jesus’

Following Jesus does not mean slavishly copying his life.
It means making his choice of life your own,
starting from your own potential and in the place where you find yourself.

It means living for the values for which Jesus lived and died.
It means following the path he took,
and seeing things as he saw them.

If there is anything in which this life, this way, can be expressed,
in which God has revealed himself most clearly,
it is the reality of love.

You are someone only in as far as you love,
and only what has turned to love in your life will be preserved.
What love is you can learn from Jesus.

He is the one who has loved most.
He will teach you to put the centre of yourself outside.
For no one has greater love than one who lays down his life for his friends.
He will also teach you to be unlimited space for others, invitation and openness:
‘Come to me all you who are weary and overburdened and I will give you rest.’

So be converted to love every day.

Change all your energies, all your potential, into selfless gifts for the other person.
Then you yourself will be changed from within, and through you God’s Kingdom will break into the world.

You are called to follow Jesus closely.
With Him you will take the road up to Jerusalem, the city of suffering and glorification.
With Him you will give everything that the Kingdom may come.

On this road you are called to be least of all and not master,
to carry others’ burdens and not lay your own on them,

to give freedom instead of taking it,
to grow poor in order to make others rich,
to take the cross upon yourself thus bringing joy to others,
to die in order that others may live.
This is the mystery of the gospel, and there is no purpose in endless talk about it.
Be silent – for it will be true and genuine only if you practice it.

So keep Jesus Christ before your eyes.
Don’t hesitate to go anywhere he leads you;
don’t stay where you are and don’t look back,
but look forward with eagerness to what lies ahead. Amen.

Reprinted from Rule for a New Brother by H. Van Der Looy. Copyright 1997. Used by permission of Templegate Publishers.

Exercise: My Web of Connections

Download this exercise to reflect on your relationships with the people who surround your life. Where are relationships strong and blooming? Where could some ‘fertilizer’ create better ones? Where are relationships weakest?

We are all connected, directly and indirectly, through God’s Creation. What should you include in your Rule of Life to improve your relationship with others?

Use different types or colors of lines (for example: straight for strong & happy / double for very happy / dotted for weak / wavy for tense / broken for broken) to characterize the relationship between you and others. For example your spouse, family, friends, co-workers, difficult people, those in need.
Then on each connecting line write your hopes for the relationship.

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Week 3 Reading: My Relationship with Self

Observing your practices and hopes in relation to self

There are these wonderful words in the prophecy of Isaiah, where God says: ‘You are precious in my sight and honored and I love you’ (Isaiah 43:4). We have been created by the love of God, for the love of God, and in the love of God. Love is the chief characteristic of God. Love is how God operates, so cooperate with God by accepting and sharing God’s love! How you love yourself will make a world of difference in how you relate to others. Loving yourself is so important. Remember, you are worth it.

A reading from The Way of Discernment, by Stephen V. Doughty.

Reflect on how this reading relates to your relationship with your self.

The monk Thomas Merton once asked an earnest student a question that he immediately answered himself: ‘How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun.’ The student, James Finley, thought long about that image and years later wrote, ‘A small green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles, squinting its eyes and tightening its jaw in order to find itself the next morning miraculously large, red, ripe and juicy.’ The apple just sits in the sun. It is naturally positioned to receive the daily nourishment it needs to ripen. This is similar to how we mature in the fullness of God’s life, except that we are not naturally positioned like the apple. We must place ourselves where we can receive the light of God, and this is the purpose of spiritual disciplines. Through them we position ourselves to receive the sunlight of God’s grace.

Reprinted from Companions in Christ: The Way of Discernment Participant’s Book by Stephen V. Doughty. Copyright 2008. Used by permission of Upper Room Books.

Take Time to Breathe

Take a moment today – and for the next few days – to lie down and breathe. Find a cozy spot in the grass under a tree or light a few candles in a quiet room and stretch out on the floor. Put yourself in a space that is nurturing for your body and soul. As you breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly, invite the Holy Spirit to be with you in each breath. Now focus your attention on the top of your head. Gradually shift your attention to your shoulders, then to your chest, your abdomen, your legs, and down to your toes. Take several minutes to do this, moving slowly from your head to your toes. Through the whole exercise, stay as relaxed as possible and breathe calmly and quietly.

Exercise: My Own Self

Spend time now recording some of the key points you want to recall related to your relationship with self. Download the exercise and use it to consider each question, starting with the head and moving down to the toes.

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Week 2 Reading: My Relationship with God

Observing your own practices and hopes in relation to God

Of all the elements of a Rule of Life, those dealing with our relationship with God are the most important. God is the source and the center of our lives as people of faith. During this phase, we will be exploring ways in which we can develop and grow our relationship with God in prayer. Prayer is our lifeblood. It is what binds us to God and God to us. Jesus came to offer us abundant life, and through his teaching and example, he has shown us that prayer is a wonderful way to come home to God and to receive that life which is his promise to each one of us.

A reading from The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist on ‘Prayer and Life’: Reflect on how this reading might inform your own life of prayer.

God the Holy Spirit longs to inspire in us prayer that includes and embraces the whole of our life. It is a great privilege to be called to the religious life, which offers us every opportunity and encouragement to welcome the Spirit’s transforming grace so that prayer may enter more and more into all that we are and all that we do.

Resisting the tendency to restrict prayer to set times, we are to aim at Eucharistic living that is responsive at all times and in all places to the divine presence. We should seek the gifts which help us to pray without ceasing. The Spirit offers us the gift of attentiveness by which we discern signs of God’s presence and action in creation, in other people and in the fabric of ordinary existence. We are called to spiritual freedom by which we surrender fretfulness and anxiety in order to be available to God in the present moment. There is the gift of spontaneity, which gives rise to frequent brief prayers throughout the day in which we look to Christ and express our faith, hope and love. There is the gift of prompt repentance, which encourages us to turn to God and ask for forgiveness the instant we become aware of a fall. Through these and other like gifts, prayer comes to permeate our life and transfigure our mundane routines.

The life of prayer calls for the courage to bring into our communion with Christ the fullness of our humanity and the concrete realities of our daily existence, which he redeemed by his incarnation. We are called to offer all our work to God and ask for the graces we need to do it in Christ’s name. In our prayer we are to test whether God is confirming our intentions and desires or not. We are able to pray about one another, our relationships and common endeavors. We are to bring him our sufferings and poverty, our passion and sexuality, our fears and resistances, our desires and our dreams, our losses and grief. We must spread before him our cares about the world and its peoples, our friends and families, our enemies and those from whom we are estranged. Our successes and failures, our gifts and shortcomings, are equally the stuff of our prayer. We are to offer the night to God as well as the day, our unconscious selves as well as our conscious minds, acknowledging the secret and unceasing workings of the Spirit in the depths of our hearts.

This deep intention at the heart of our life to find God in all things means learning to trust that divine companionship continues undiminished even when we feel only boredom and frustration. We can learn to stay still in our experience of numbness and resistance, and trust that Christ is just as truly alive in our hearts in these times as in those in which we enjoy the sense of his presence.

Exercise: My Garden Plot

Spend time now reflecting on your relationship with God. Download and use the exercise to map out how your garden is currently growing. Consider too, how you would like it to grow. Respond to the questions in each section with drawings and creative expressions. Start with the soil, move on to the plants, and end with the sky. Have fun, get out your art supplies, and let your creative spirit come alive!

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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.

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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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?