When you hear the word monk” or monastery,” per­haps you envi­sion a chub­by, jol­ly fig­ure liv­ing a sim­ple but good life. Or per­haps you see a seri­ous, omi­nous fig­ure chant­i­ng day and night in a chapel.

When I tell peo­ple I’ve drawn inspi­ra­tion for my own spir­i­tu­al life from the tra­di­tions of these ancient broth­ers in the faith, they’ll often look at me and ask: Why would an Asian per­son be inter­est­ed in a monas­tic path?”

After all, the monas­tic tra­di­tion in the West­ern Church orig­i­nat­ed with St. Bene­dict, a Chris­t­ian liv­ing in sixth-cen­tu­ry Italy — not Japan. Bene­dict devel­oped a rule — or rhythm of life — to help Chris­tians live in com­mu­ni­ty while being respon­sive to their indi­vid­ual needs. This rule was so attrac­tive and prac­ti­cal that it became the basis for Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties across Europe, and beyond.

But there are some inter­est­ing par­al­lels between monas­tic tra­di­tions and my per­son­al history.

Sev­er­al years ago, our church staff took some time to inves­ti­gate our fam­i­ly trees. We did this as a way to bet­ter know our­selves and our oth­er team mem­bers. While explor­ing my roots, I dis­cov­ered some­thing sur­pris­ing — my own ances­tors were Japan­ese samu­rai. Though most peo­ple are famil­iar with the image of samu­rai as high­ly skilled and dis­ci­plined war­riors who sprang to the defense of their com­mu­ni­ty, I also learned that samu­rai were farm­ers, philoso­phers, poets, and artists. They lived by a code of hon­or called bushi­do, a set of rules and prac­tices that guid­ed their life and enabled them to grow into peo­ple of wis­dom, for­ti­tude, loy­al­ty, com­pas­sion, and ser­vice. They cen­tered on one pur­pose: serv­ing their samu­rai lord and the com­mu­ni­ty. Their lives were often demand­ing, ascetic and even bru­tal. But much like the ancient Chris­t­ian monas­tics, they found that liv­ing by a par­tic­u­lar pat­tern of life empow­ered them to become wise, coura­geous, com­pas­sion­ate peo­ple who served their lord and the com­mon good.

I found myself long­ing for some­thing sim­i­lar — a pat­tern of life that would help me live well, grow, and faith­ful­ly serve my lord, Jesus Christ, and the larg­er com­mu­ni­ty. As I learned more about bushi­do and the rule of life under which Chris­t­ian monas­tics lived, I saw that both of these ancient cul­tures had devel­oped some­thing sim­ple, yet pro­found: a life pat­terned on proven prac­tices that helped them cul­ti­vate their char­ac­ter and con­tribute to the world.

I don’t live in a monastery. Nor am I a samu­rai swords­man. I’m just an ordi­nary guy — a busi­ness­man turned pas­tor who strug­gles with the chal­lenges we all face. I am a father and a hus­band. I am a fol­low­er of Jesus. And I under­stand the chal­lenge of inte­grat­ing all of these call­ings into a sim­ple way of life, bal­anc­ing the var­i­ous demands I face with wis­dom and grace.

But I have found a way to live out my com­mit­ment to Christ in each of my dif­fer­ent rela­tion­ships and roles through a life-giv­ing rhythm, a rule of life pat­terned on the ancient monas­tic rule Bene­dict devel­oped. A rule of life is sim­ply a rhythm of prac­tices that empow­ers us to live well and grow more like Jesus by help­ing us expe­ri­ence God in every­thing. Typ­i­cal­ly, it includes time for per­son­al devo­tions and com­mu­nal wor­ship; self-care, includ­ing exer­cise and recre­ation; care for our fam­i­ly and friends; and bench­marks for how we try to put our faith into action, includ­ing through prac­tices such as tithing and com­mu­ni­ty service. 

Though the word rule may sound harsh and con­fin­ing, I have found that liv­ing by a rule has para­dox­i­cal­ly freed me to pur­sue the life I have always longed for — a life of deep­er, trans­form­ing friend­ship with Jesus and fruit­ful con­tri­bu­tion to the world.

Excerpt­ed from Ken Shigematsu’s book God in My Every­thing (Zon­der­van 2013). Used with permission.

Text First Published August 2013

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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