Chris Webb, the President of Renovare’ USA, pleads in this article for the importance of rhythms for one’s spiritual life.
Renovaré is a nonprofit Christian organization that resources, fuels, models, and advocates fullness of life with God, experienced through the life and spiritual practices of Jesus and the historical church.
Here is how he begins building his case.
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Living by Rhythms
We are all creatures of habit.
My three year old son, Gregory, finds great comfort in his day to day routines: the well-worn stories we read over and over; the familiar pattern of mealtimes and bedtime; the knowledge that Sunday lunch is reliably followed by a handful of candies, or that Tuesday morning means playgroup with Logan and Emily.
In time, he will outgrow all this—but experience suggests that he will simply grow into a new, but equally regular, rhythm of life. Like him, I too live by patterns. And, almost certainly, so do you. In the summer of 2008, a group of researchers from Boston published a study in the scientificc journal Nature, in which they followed the movements of over 100,000 people by anonymously tracking their cell phone signals. They found that we tend to revisit the same places, at the same times, with an astonishing (and almost monotonous) predictability. In other words, if you like cappuccinos, chances are high that you visit the same coffee shop most days, and usually at the same time in your daily routine.
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 exibility, 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 diffcult 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.
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At the end of his article, Webb suggests a series of rules of life for each of the six styles of spirituality (as presented by Foster in his book Streams of Living Water. Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith). Here they are:
A Personal Rule of Life
- Pray the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.
- Make a retreat once every year.
- Fast until the evening meal one day every week.
- Practice an “examination of conscience” once a week.
- Worship together with the Church every Sunday, whenever possible.
- Participate in the Franciscan community, including spiritual direction.
- Social Justice
- Practice simplicity: give generously and travel light.
- Practice hospitality: open my home to all.
- Read Scripture daily.
- Study at least one other Christian book each month.
- Participate in the celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays and holy days, whenever possible.
- Seek to serve and honor God in my daily life and work.
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