The most important question Methodists have asked for years is a simple one – How is it with your soul? The question caught on years ago and is still asked today because it addresses a truth that too many of us know deep in our hearts and our minds and our souls.
So many people want, almost more than anything else, for someone to ask us this kind of question, a question that makes it possible to unburden our souls, to admit that things are, in fact, not well and then to have the chance to to see if someone, anyone, has unlocked the secret to a different kind of life than the rushed and frantic one so many of us have been suckered into living.
We truly want a new way of life, but we aren’t sure how to find it in the midst of everything we have to do – sprinting to work, hurrying to appointments, scrounging for dinner and then figuring how we are going to do it all over again tomorrow.
A spiritual life might be nice, but we just can’t fit it in.
This isn’t a new problem.
An Old Rule
Sometime in the Fifth Century, Benedict wrote the Rule of St. Benedict, the rule that has guided monks and monasteries for centuries in living and keeping their vows.
It wasn’t written to guide monks and Christians committed to a specialized way of living their faith. Instead, it’s initial purpose was to help ordinary people discover a way to work and pray so they could live more faithful and holy lives where they were.
There is plenty to say and write about Saint Benedict and the power of the Rule, and plenty has been written and said – Joan Chissiter’s book is one of the best. But the heart of the rule is something we already know – living out your faith apart from a holistic way of a life and a community of accountability is a recipe for spiritual disaster.
The despair that too many people know comes not from the fact that we aren’t trying, but instead from trying to live our faith apart from the full spectrum of discipleship that Jesus invites us to.
In short, to experience a true connection with God we need a coherent framework that has stood the test of time. The key to growing in faith isn’t a set of isolated spiritual practices but a unified rhythm and way of life that points our whole lives to the way, the truth and the life of Jesus.
Learning a New Rhythm
What we believe matters. But lived Christianity is less a series of truth statements than it is a rhythm of life that flows from what we believe. If we want to live an authentic and real spiritual life, we need a rule that points us to the right rhythm.
The problem with the frantic and hurried rhythms that run our lives is they do so much more damage than simply leading us to the brink of exhaustion. They stunt our spiritual growth, prevent us from experiencing Resurrection faith and blind us to gifts that God is trying to give us.
This is the wisdom of Benedict’s Rule. If we want to receive the good life and experience the gifts and presence of God, we have to adjust our lives into the right rhythm. We call this repentance.
And the rhythm we need is one we find again and again in the Bible and that we see most clearly in the practices and patterns of God’s relationship with Israel in the Old Testament. Their experience provides the basic pattern for true life; the rhythm we long for revolves around five movements – confession, forgiveness, repentance, celebration and rest.
Confession reveals our sin and calls us back to God after we realize there are serious consequences that come from going our own way.
Forgiveness frees us from our need to be right and reminds us that true life doesn’t come from what we can produce but from the gifts we receive.
Repentance calls us away from the habits that got us in trouble and sends us toward the God-filled life of holiness and faithfulness.
Celebration invites us to worship God and praise the One who matters most – the source and provider of all that we have.
Rest summons us to cease our doing if only for a moment to enjoy everything we have been given and leads us to embrace humility as we discover that God can manage the world just fine without us.
A Unified Life
We won’t experience the joy that comes from a connected and real relationship with God by trying one new thing or another. The search for the spiritual life is the search for the unified life. A spiritual life divided, like a house, cannot stand.
Instead, we need to commit ourselves to living according to a rule and experiencing a holy and holistic way of life. We won’t get where we hope to go by trying to squeeze in a spiritual practice here or there. Instead, God longs for us to create the margin and the space to live by a new rule and find ourselves in a new and more faith-filled rhythm.
It might seem old fashioned or out of style – but that old Methodist question won’t tolerate shortcuts. Instead, it asks and invites us to receive gifts that might seem hard to accept but are the only way to experience and receive the life we truly want.
In the end, the rules and the rhythm aren’t a burden, but instead are the ways that enable God to free us from the idols that fuel our despair and invite us to a new and better life that we desperately need.