What Rule, or rules, do you follow?
Margaret Guenther -- priest, spiritual director and professor of ascetic theology (that sounds a little painful, doesn't it?) -- reminds us in her book Toward Holy Ground that, no matter how free-spirited or right-brained we may believe ourselves to be, we all follow a Rule. If 10:00 p.m. on Thursday means a bowl of popcorn and your favorite must-see TV -- you have a Rule, just as if 10:00 p.m. signaled your time to kneel at your bedside for Compline.
And for most of us, ordering our lives means managing concentric circles of rules: the calendar year; the Church year, if you're a certain flavor of Christian; your body's regular rhythms; your work year; your Rule for managing your household; your Rule for maintaining your health and fitness; and so it goes.
Personally, the various cycles of my life often look more like wobbly amoebas. Sometimes they break up altogether. In re-reading the Book of Genesis and Exodus this month, and their word-pictures of the cosmic struggle between order and chaos, I've been thinking about the chaotic aspects of my own life, which are many. Some of them are beyond my control, like my currently haywire hormonal cycle. Some of the chaos is a matter of will and intention, or lack thereof, like my not-always-faithful following of the Daily Office, or -- on a lighter note -- my not having a good system (yet) for reading through all the websites and blogs that interest me, that I want to honor by paying regular attention to.
I often find myself craving more order in my life. But I also find myself needing some externally imposed pattern for that order. I can't seem to manufacture it myself. The other day I wrote about the housekeeping-for-dummies book that provided readers with a kind of almanac of household chores; I like this, because I know I would neither be able to invent or follow such a schedule on my own. At work I love bulleted to-do lists whose items I can check off as I complete them. I appreciate the discipline of the Daily Office, because left to my own devices I just wouldn't pray so intentionally, so often. I find myself really longing for a spiritual director to help me get that part of my life more together. And sometimes my moroseness over my singletude stems from a realization that sometimes I just don't give enough of a damn about myself or my immediate surroundings without the motivation of a caring other giving me a reason to pull it together, and maybe some direction as well.
And, frankly, this can bug me. It offends me. It makes me feel as if I'm on the less evolved end of a developmental scale. What is wrong with me? I think. Why can't I just run my life on my own? Why am I so inadequate a human being that I need to have so much help from outside myself in order to live the world?
Which brings us back to: a Rule. We all have one. Rejecting the idea of a Rule is itself a Rule. And not a particularly good one. It speaks to the condition of curvatus in se -- our essential problem; our inward-turnedness, our insistence on making ourselves, with our capricious thoughts and impulses, our own little god.
Elsewhere online I'm involved in a discussion called "Why Bother With Church?", talking about why we need to live in community. I think that the mutual support, mutual accountability and striving toward a same goal, for love of the same Beloved, are why we should bother with Church, which I am defining in the broadest way -- you and me, and the whole people of God. We need each other as encouragers; as reality checks; as role models; as helpers, and also as people we can help; sometimes as kvetchers and sometimes as irritants that help us stretch and grow. Being willing not only to be displeasing to ourselves but to be displeasing to and displeased by other Christians is an act of placing ourselves under a Rule.
There are days when I feel most acutely God's saving hand -- sometimes directly, sometimes via the hands of my Christian friends -- rescuing me from spiritual chaos. The other chaos in my life -- well, sometimes not so much. (Do not look in the trunk of my car.) But I am, I think, learning to let go of the idea that "freedom" is synonymous with "doing whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like it." And, hey -- it's only taken 45 years.