The Rule of Life: What Saint Benedict Is Teaching Me

What makes a good day in your life?

It’s a question we’ve examined on this blog more than once, starting with my mission statement:

To prepare for the hour of my death.

One good day at a time.

And to help others do the same.

Now that I’m enjoying all the benefits of living next to two monastic communities, I’m hoping to absorb the long influence of Benedict of Nursia (480-550), the abbot who wrote one of the most influential books on how to spend one’s time in community: The Rule of Saint Benedict.

Benedict has influenced me since my first fellowship at Valparaiso University. Both for his rule and for this admonition found in the rule:

“Keep death always before your eyes.”

St. Benedict (480-550), author of The Rule of Life. Sculpture by David Paul Lange, O.S. B. and Steven Lemke, St. John's University '08. 2012

St. Benedict (480-550), author of The Rule of Life. Sculpture by David Paul Lange, O.S. B. and Steven Lemke, St. John’s University ’08. 2012

Toward that end, I have constructed my own Personal Rule of Life.

Here’s how my days will be spent beginning tomorrow.

Or at least this is how I imagine them now.

Personal Rule of Life

6-7 a.m. Awaken without alarm. Before getting out of bed, thank God for this day and for my most precious ones. Wash, dress, while thinking about the day ahead. There will be 1440 minutes. A gift. How will I use them?

7 a.m. Prime time. Silence and prayer. Journal the intentions for the day.

7:15 Breakfast

7:30-9 a.m. Reading and Writing toward project goals

Break for ten minutes. Walk around. Do chores. Step outside and say hello to the lake. Note subtle changes as seasons turn.

 

Sunrise.

Sunrise.

 

9:10-10:30 a.m. Reading and Writing

Break for ten minutes. Outside if possible.

10:40-11:40 a.m. Read and write.

Walk to Abbey Church

Afternoon

12 noon Be in Choir stall #2 before the bells begin to chime for Mid-day Prayer with the monks

12:15- 12:45 p.m. Lunch in my office or the student center

1-2:30 p.m. Read and Write

Break. Wander the halls in the Quad. Look for a monk or a colleague. 🙂

2:40-4 p.m. Read and Write

Break. Make a cup of tea or coffee in the lounge.

4:10-5:30 p.m. Read and Write.

5:30-6:30 p.m. Leave office. Walk to gym. Rotate activities. Weights, walking, running. Average distance: 4 miles.

Evening

6:30-7:30 p.m. Dinner/ phone call with family

 

Sunset.

Sunset.

 

7:30-9 p.m. Read and Write. Or attend lectures, etc.

9-10 p.m. Unwind with meditative reading. Conscious review of the day’s intentions. Express gratitude for the gifts of the day.

Author Caroline Webb, in a new book called How to Have a Good Day, has gathered 600 social science research studies into one place. My Personal Rule above attempts to take her advice summarized here. I’ve also drawn from blogger friend Elaine Mansfield’s “Ten Ways to Create Sacred Space Every Day.” 

I’m excited about getting to the place where I know the campus and its monastic rhythms well enough, at least as a visitor and scholar, to create my own structure. It’s a scaffolding on which to build. I know my attention will stray and other invitations and travels will break the pattern.

But then, I’ll ask forgiveness and begin again. Monasteries specialize in redemption. 🙂

Oh, I see it’s almost time for mid-day prayer. Must go!

See you later. Have a GOOD DAY!

How do you feel looking at this Personal Rule? Would it drive you crazy? Do you crave structure? What advice do you have for me? For yourself? How do we make our days the best they can be?

Shirley Showalter

41 Comments

  1. Diana Schramer on September 28, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    This sounds (and looks) like heaven, Shirley. You are so blessed. How I long to do what you are right now. Perhaps one day I will.

    Too much structure drives me crazy, but it helps if I have freedom within that structure to honor my own rhythms. I resonate with your statement, “I’m excited about getting to the place where I know the campus and its monastic rhythms well enough, at least as a visitor and scholar, to create my own structure. It’s a scaffolding on which to build.” In doing so, you are honoring the community’s structure while also having and exercising the freedom to create your own within it. This is what healthy community is about. Again, heaven. Enjoy.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 28, 2016 at 2:42 pm

      Thanks for being the first responder here, Diana. I’ve just returned from lunch with a friend on campus, so the rhythm has altered a little. And tonight we will be saying farewell to a short-term colleague, and the pattern will adjust again. While visiting with my friend, I did my minimum walking, and one of the chores that was on my intentions list for the day. The advantage of knowing the intentions is that the blocks of time can adjust to the external needs of others while I still make progress on what my mind and spirit have decided for the day. It really helps to know what one is trying to do. Sounds obvious, but, for me at least, this kind of flexible structure helps.

      At the top of my intentions list today is “find the caught-up feeling” again. 🙂

  2. Carol Bodensteiner on September 28, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    You outlined the work structure that helped me accomplish my last writing project, Shirley. Now that the manuscript is headed to the editor, I’m at loose ends. And this makes me anxious – as you know. Without the overall project goal, I’m searching for how to structure.

    Your post reminded me that I want to look up St. Benedict’s Personal Rule of Life. Reading is one way I’m productive with my day.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 28, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      Carol, here’s a link to the Rule online for free! http://www.osb.org/rb/text/toc.html

      I hope you find a new pattern soon. It gives me peace when I’m in rhythm and lowgrade depression when I’m not.

      Have you tried with simply setting intentions for each day until a new pattern emerges? It’s so easy to just let life come at us instead of deciding how it fits our purpose.

      I know you will find a new rhythm soon. Would love to know how you do that.

      • Carol Bodensteiner on September 29, 2016 at 10:40 am

        Thanks for the link, Shirley. I’m trying a number of things – journaling, reading, identifying all the household tasks I willing let slide while I wrote the novel. I’m sure something will surface. We’re taking a small vacation in October. I expect that will help. Or at least distract me 😉

  3. Marian Beaman on September 28, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    My feet tell me that I’ve been through the greatest surge of activity in my entire life. Moving and relocating is not for sissies. Neither is adopting a thoroughly contemplative life as you are doing. I should think it would require a huge adjustment though the idea of undisturbed reading, writing, and thinking sound like a luxury to me just now.

    Yes, I crave structure (with flexibility) and imagine I would enjoy the new associations and friendships that evolve in this idyllic environment.

    You asked for a bit of advice: I think one’s cup would have to be emptied before it could be filled. You may be in that uneasy position of transition right now – but maybe not as you’ve experienced a Fellowship before.

    For now, just “go with it” and remember, just as in yoga, when the breathing gets shallow and the thoughts stray, take that little lasso and rein them in. How blessed you are, dear Christian mystic. Looking forward to more here.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 28, 2016 at 5:01 pm

      Marian, thanks for these sweet, loving words. And the same to you.

      My feet are feeling a bit out of whack also. I tried jogging again, and my ankles protested. I probably pushed too hard too fast. Hope your feet feel better soon.

      I’d love to hear more about the empty cup idea. How do you empty yours?

  4. Marian Beaman on September 28, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    I mentioned the empty cup because the lines of an old gospel song floated through my mind as I wrote the comment: “Fill My Cup, Lord” time, of my desire to “live one good day at a time” in retirement (words borrowed from author, Shirley Showalter). That’s a goal I am […]

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