There is a pattern to our activities. We build structure into our days. We create family traditions and rituals. Our churches use liturgies,” even if we never write them down — we tend to follow the same order of worship week by week. Even though we often rejoice in spontaneity and flexibility, the truth is we like routines; we prefer order to chaos. 

We live by rhythms. 

Anthony and the Angel 

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, a collection of stories from early Christian Egypt, tells a fascinating tale about structure and rhythms. Anthony of Egypt was a young man who went to live in the harsh desert regions east of the Nile with one simple yet daring goal in mind: to strip away every distraction this world had to offer so he could seek God with his whole heart. Anthony pursued life with God at a level of intensity most of us find difficult to imagine — a pursuit which led to incredible spiritual experiences: visions of Christ, battles with evil spirits, and divine revelations. 

Anthony, though, became deeply discouraged, uncertain that all his efforts were really achieving anything. He was still deeply conscious of his sins, still (at times) felt far from God. He turned his anxiety into prayer: Lord, I want to be made whole by your grace, but this discouragement will not leave me alone. What can I do? How can I be made whole?” 

As he finished praying he opened the door of his cell and caught sight of an angel sitting outside patiently weaving reed baskets. After a while the angel set aside his work, stood up, and stretched out his hands to pray. Then when he had finished, he sat down and began weaving again. As Anthony watched from his doorway, the angel turned to him, smiled, and said, Anthony, just do this — and then you will be made whole.” 

To Anthony, the point was immediately clear. The angel did not bring another astounding experience, another revelation or vision. Instead, he modeled a rhythm of living. Work and pray. Work and pray. Just do this and do it this way, quietly and faithfully — and you will find the wholeness of life you seek. 

An Intentional Rhythm 

What Anthony had discovered was that our inclination to live by rhythms can be turned to our advantage: it can become a catalyst for profound spiritual growth. Every day we live is like a miniature picture of our whole life: all our priorities are somehow reflected in the way we choose to invest the few hours between each sunrise and sunset. Our survival matters to us, so we make time to eat and drink. If we value those we love, or our work, or our community, that determines how we invest our time. As the sum of all our drives, passions, choices, and instincts, our daily activities reveal our real beliefs and commitments. 

But, of course, the way we structure our days not only reveals our character and priorities, it can also help to shape them. We make some choices because of who we are, but others because of who we wish to become. And so apprentices of Jesus have long realized that we can express our desire to follow him not only in particular activities — spiritual practices and disciplines but also in the routines and rituals of life. We may be wired to live by rhythms, but we can intentionally set the beat: we can structure our daily living as a loving response to the grace of God in Christ. 

Regula Vitae

In the Christian tradition, this desire to intentionally structure our lives as Christ followers was usually expressed through the regula vitae, the Rule of Life’ (the Latin is pronounced ray-goo-lah vee-tay”). In our contemporary society, when we hear the word rule’ many of us immediately begin thinking of laws, commands, regulations, and directives. The more theologically-minded might bristle: is this an attempt to subvert the grace of God in favor of a system of merit and reward: obey the rules and God will love you? Others, steeped in our culture of fierce individualism and independence, might balk for different reasons: we have become rules-averse.” No one, we say, can tell me how to live my life. I want freedom and choice, not the constriction of laws and commands. 

But a regula vitae, a Rule of Life, is neither an attempt to prove ourselves to God, nor to impose anything on other people. The Latin word regula originally described a wooden strip with markings which could be used in construction or drawing. A regula was not the rule we find on the statute books — it was the rule we used in geometry classes to help make the sides of our triangles straight and true. In the same way, a regula vitae is not a set of instructions telling us how we must live. It is a description of how we might live. A Rule of Life outlines a pattern of living which is immersed in Christ, and invites us to shape ourselves to it — to become straight and true. 

Excerpted from Explorations: Rhythms of Life, Series 1, Part 1 by Christopher S. Webb (Renovaré Resource).

Photo by AfriMod Studio on Unsplash

Text First Published January 2010