Skip to main content

The Rhythm of Life...





Think about a typical day in your life. What's the first thing you do when you wake up? What's your morning ritual? What do you do during your lunch hour? What's the last thing you do before you go to bed? We all have life rhythms. Every day, we do certain things at a certain time in a certain way. Most of the time, we don't even think about these habits; they are just a part of our life. Each of these small details may seem insignificant, but they are building blocks. The habits we inhabit are formative. This is because our life rhythms are connected to two big questions: What is the good life, the flourishing life? What is our vocation (what is God calling us to)?

Let's look at an example. Here is the daily rhythm of a Benedictine community in New Mexico called Christ in the Desert.

Vigils at 4 am (read 12 Psalms, scripture lesson, reading from Church fathers)
Lauds at 5:45 am (prayer and Eucharist)
Breakfast, personal time
Chapter Meeting at 8:30 am (work assignments, announcements)
Terce at 8:45 am
Work
Sext at 1:00 pm
Lunch (eaten in silence listening to a short reading from the Bible - feed the mind and the body)
Rest and reading
None at 3:30 pm followed by tea and Lectio Divina
Vespers at 5:50 pm (praying Psalms, a hymn, intercession for needs and intentions of whole Church)
Supper
Chapter Meeting at 7:10 (reading part of rule of St. Benedict, commentary by abbot, intercession for prayers sent to monks)
Compline at 7:30 pm (confession, 2 Psalms, a hymn)
Great Silence (turn thoughts to resting in God, no unnecessary talk until morning)


Of special note are the seven times set apart for communal prayer: vigils (night), lauds (daybreak), terce (third hour), sext (sixth hour), none (ninth hour), vespers (sunset), compline (retiring for the night). Here we can see how the monks' vocations are tied to living a good life expressed through a rule of life or a daily rhythm. In other words, since they are called to be set apart from the world and spend their lives dedicated to God through prayer and work (vocation), they follow a particular rule of life which allows them to inhabit practices (daily rhythm) which lead them to grow in love and peace through contemplation and service (good life). The daily rhythm of Christ in the Desert community gives the monks the means to fulfill their vocation, and the structure provides both stability and consistency in the community. One could say that the rule of life gives them a track to run on in order to get where they want to go.

Let's look at another example. In the book of Daniel, we find a young man who is forcibly taken from his home in Israel when the country is invaded and the government overthrown. The best young men of Israel are shipped off to Babylon to serve a new master, and Daniel finds himself in a strange country with unfamiliar customs and religious practices. Daniel and his fellow captives are to be assimilated into this new culture, but Daniel is a worshiper of YHWH and carries on the rituals and rhythms he learned in his homeland, practices which reinforce devotion to YHWH and remind him that he serves the Lord God Most High, not the Babylonian empire. Daniel respectfully declines a royal diet, refuses to bow down to statues, does not accept gifts or bribes, speaks the truth even when his life is in danger, and most significantly, prays to YHWH three times a day with praises, thanksgiving, and petitions. This rule of life is what keeps Daniel on track. It is what keeps Daniel from being assimilated into the culture around him. His daily rhythms guide his affections and inform his allegiances.

In theology, we hear a lot about orthodoxy (right belief or doctrine), a bit less about orthopraxy (right practice), and even less about orthopathy (right affection or passion). Thanks to Descartes and modern philosophy, we in the West tend to see ourselves primarily as thinking beings, but this assessment is distorted. James K. A. Smith believes that we are first and foremost lovers. Our lives are shaped not by our thoughts and ideas but by our affections. He has written a book called You Are What You Love in order to help people see human persons not as "containers filled with ideas or beliefs, but rather ... dynamic, desiring 'arrows' aimed and pointed at something ultimate." [1]

Though believing (trusting) in God is certainly mentioned in the Bible, when Jesus is asked to name the most important command, he points toward love, a love which is aimed at God and at our neighbour. All other acts of devotion, all other truth, all orthodoxy and orthopraxy stem from Jesus's articulated orthopathy. The implications of this are quite significant, especially when we live in a culture skewed toward competitive individualism. If we are primarily thinkers, we will situate ourselves in ideologies, often in isolation. However, if we are lovers first, we will situate ourselves in a love story, in a family, in a community. While not everyone is capable of being a brilliant thinker, we all have the capacity to be brilliant lovers. Love is the very nature of God. Therefore, love is at the centre of what it means to be human and made in the image of God.

So what does this have to do with daily rhythms? And the good life? And vocation? Basically, what we love, what we give ourselves over to, what we worship, will shape our hearts, our lives, and our beliefs. Our desires point our lives in a certain direction, either intentionally or by default, so we would be wise to ask ourselves this question: To what ends do our cultural institutions (education, politics, arts, entertainment), our contexts of work and home, our relationships, our churches, and our daily habits direct our love? Like Daniel, we are sure to find some rivals for our affection in our cultural contexts. It is up to us to incorporate rhythms of life which will direct our love toward YHWH and our fellow human beings and remind us whose we are. Let us develop rhythms in our life which intentionally reflect our vocation and give us practical, daily habits that will lead us to live good lives, lives spent loving God and each other.

(Image by Sophie Gallo)

-----------------------

[1] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 71. This book is a precursor to You Are What You Love.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

what binds us together?

For the past few weeks, I have been reading a book by famed psychiatrist M. Scott Peck which chronicles his travels (together with his wife) through remote parts of the UK in search of prehistoric stones. The book is part travel journal, part spiritual musings, part psychology, and part personal anecdotes. A mixed bag, to be sure, and not always a winning combination. At one point, I considered putting the book aside, not finishing it, but then Peck started writing about community. He is no stranger to the concept. He has led hundreds of community-building workshops over the years, helped start a non-profit organisation dedicated to fostering community, and written a compelling book about the topic, one which greatly impacted me when I read it oh so long ago.[1]

In preparation for a course I am teaching next year, I have been doing quite a bit of study on unity and community. Once you start thinking about it, you see and hear evidence of it everywhere. (See my blog on the impact of b…

job hunting

I am on the hunt for a job. PhD in hand, I am a theologian for hire. The thing is, not a lot of places are hiring theologians these days, and if they are, they are usually looking for scholars with skills and experience outside my area of expertise. Today I found job opportunities for those knowledgeable in Religion, Race, and Colonialism, Philosophy and History of Religion, Islam and Society, Languages of Late Antiquity, Religion, Ethics, and Politics, and an ad for a Molecular Genetic Pathologist. Not one posting for a Dramatic Theologian with  a side order of Spirituality and a dash of Methodology.

I know, I know. My expectations are a bit unrealistic if I believe I will find an exact match for my particular skills. I know that job descriptions are wish lists to some extent, so no candidate is ever a perfect match. I also realize that one must adapt one's skill set according to the requirements of the job and be flexible. But there are so few jobs which come within ten or even…

building the church

Imagine two scenarios: 1) Give every person in the room a popsicle stick. Ask them to come together and put their sticks onto a table. Invariably, you end up with a random pile of sticks on a table. 2) Give every person in the room a popsicle stick. Show a picture of a popsicle stick bird feeder and ask people to come together and put their sticks on a table according to the picture. You will end up with the beginnings of a bird feeder on a table.

What is the difference between the two scenarios? In both, each person brought what they had and contributed it to the collective. However, in the first scenario, there were no guidelines, no plan, and no right or wrong way to pile the sticks. People came, placed their sticks on the table, and walked away. In the second scenario, people were given a plan to follow and as a result, something specific was built. Instead of walking away after they made their contribution, people huddled around the table to watch what was being built. Some were…