Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Rules

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.

11 comments:

P. Softly said...

I think I understand what you are saying, although I may be reading too much of my own situation into this.

I haven't figured out for myself if my struggles with the Rules or against the rules are part of the human condition or part of my ADD-nature.

If I understand what you are saying, it is that we tend to ritulize certain parts of our lives, and we repeat these activities.

For me, one important one is a mid-week Bible Study that I've been attending in various forms for 28 years.

But there are more mundane and earthy "rules" as well. Perhaps we get more and more intrenched in these as we age because it just makes life easier.

We had a major change in a daily pattern of our home life one year ago and I still haven't adjusted. My body is fighting the change of the daily rhythm.

I'm also trying to change the time of day I do a certain activity. It is my creative activity and I think I could do better if I did it in the morning, but somehow I can't seem to make myself change, only to think about it.

If this is way off of what you were referring to, sorry. I'll await your thoughts.

D. Berg said...

Introspection is good in its place. And certainly it has much to offer as we grow. There is also the freedom of moving beyond ourselves into God's creation and His creatures.

Joyfulsoul (from SOF) said...

"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 really can relate to that a whole lot - in fact, it sounds just like me. I lack a lot of personal motivation and am pretty apathetic unless someone or God gives me a swift, solid, painful kick. What makes me feel worse on the developmental stage is when I see other single women able to pull off living their lives to the fullest...and I think, now, why I am I not doing that?

LutheranChik said...

Pounding Softly: I'm not sure what I was saying, LOL...I was getting a little stream-of-consciousness there.;-)

I think what I meant: I've always had an attraction/repulsion thing going with rules and order. Having a Rule can be good; it keeps the chaos at bay. The question is, which Rule? I'm reminded of a favorite quote of a friend of mine, from a book she'd gotten about dog training after she'd gotten a new puppy: "If you don't give your dog a job to do, he'll invent one of his own, and you won't like it." I think that's pretty much true of people, too.;-) One of the secondary ways in which Christianity helps us is by giving us a Rule -- not so we can think that we're earning brownie points by following it, but for our benefit, for giving our lives meaning and structure and a focus outside ourselves.

LutheranChik said...

Hey, Joyfulsoul!:-)

The thing is, that's what you're seeing, but perhaps that's not what the Lone Wolves are feeling.

And I don't think it's necessarily about having a life-partnership type of relationship with someone. I think that people who are called into religious communities enjoy the same kind of mutually beneficial, "You'll pull the wagon and I'll ride for awhile, then I'll pull the wagon and you ride" relationships.

What I know from my work is that older adults who adopt an isolationist, "I am a rock/I am an island" attitude are sicker and sadder, and die earlier, than people who nurture strong relationships with others.

P. Softly said...

Dr. James Dobson, whom I used to admire some 25 years ago, but that is another story, once explained about the 10 Commandments: God loves you so much that he gave us these commandments so that we would know how to live in the best way. Obviously not a direct quote. But he spoke about the commandments with a Gospel approach rather than a Law approach.

I've heard it said that kid without rules aren't happy. So I think these relate to your comment.

My mom is/was compulsive about doing things a certain way, at a certain time. Extreme. I rebelled against that when I left home, but I found that just bouncing around like a ball in a pin ball machine just doesn't work either. I need some boundaries imposed from without. [But not as much as some of the conservative Christian types seem to impose.]

Another thought relating to my previous point about personal rules and the rhythm of the day: I read a book about the author living with two different Amish families. One thing that impressed her was that the daily chores were considered important, rather than something to be got through so that one could THEN have fun. So there was a sort of ritual, such as clear the table, sweep the floor, do the dishes, all the while, building family togetherness. I'd enjoy my days more if I changed my attitude toward the mundane jobs, jobs that actually are service to myself and to my family.

LutheranChik said...

Maybe we both need to (re)read Brother Lawrence, who served God in the kitchen. The Guenther book I cited also talks about the discipline of craft -- doing your best at whatever you happen to be doing. This is a weak point of mine, because I tend to do a lot of things, as you say, just to get them out of the way.

Joyfulsoul said...

Thanks, Lutherchik.

On another note, I love Brother Lawerence's "Practice the Presence of God" - his humility and love for God and finding beauty and strength in the routine and mundane are so inspiring and just fascinating.

P. Softly said...

Thanks for mentioning that book. I read it in about 1975. I'll have to see if it is still here, as we've been cleaning out the bookshelves.

Bag Lady said...

Oh, how this resonates!

LC, you said, "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?"

Boy, do I get that one! I really don't like doing the Lone Ranger thing, yet that's where I find myself so often. When I have someone to work on a task with, it is so much less daunting. Me like synergy! :)

Most of what I deal with in my life feels particularly daunting, but just Friday I rediscovered at work how good it is to tackle a disgusting task and work it through, with help. (Of course, to another it might not be a disgusting task -- and even I can enjoy the kitchen when I'm working with someone else in it.)

When the Church is working together -- when, as you put it, "mutual support, mutual accountability and striving toward a same goal, for love of the same Beloved" is a strong characteristic of a Christian community, God must be saying, "Yes. You got it."

katherineOrthodixie said...

LC, I could have written this word for word (oh, all right, not as well) just a few short years ago before I began my journey to the Orthodox Church.

Now I'm not a Lone Ranger, but with a community that speaks my language and we're on this terrific spiritual journey, with a road map from an ancient Church.

Before I started this, to be more precise, before God drug me kicking and screaming, whining all the way, the only thing I knew about Orthodoxy was baklava at the annual Greek Festival.

Who'd a thunk it? A nice Lutheran girl like me. If the kids in Luther League could see me now!