By Melanie P. Moore
It really had started well. And by “started,” I mean I had a great idea: I would take on a new discipline during Lent by writing my own Benedictine-ish Rule of Life. “-ish” because I’m not a monk, not a man, not living in a monastery. Also, not Catholic. For authenticity I went to the full text (a 32-page PDF of the English translation). First, it’s long (73 chapters). And tedious. And really monk-centric. I read on, thinking I could formulate something that might work for my “Keeping it Weird” life in 2023 Austin.
The first chapter defines four types of monks and I saw my life flash before my eyes:
My current life as a woman in Texas: “Those in a monastery, where they serve under a rule and an abbot/Abott.”
In my 20s, a preacher’s kid who came out as a lesbian: “Those who, after long successful training in a monastery are now coping single-handedly, with only God for their help.”
My college life at The University of Georgia: “Those living by twos and threes together or even alone, with no experience, rule and superior, and thus a law unto themselves.”
Also college but on football game days, and where “monastery” = frat house: “Those wandering from one monastery to another, slaves to their own wills and appetites.”
With this recognition I pressed on. It would be a breeze to make my Rule.
Chapter VI recommends silence, including “…all manner of buffoonery and idle, mirth-provoking words….” Seriously? I tried to limit my morning conversation but blew it immediately, speaking to the dogs (“Are my little boo-boos ready for breckky?”) and my wife couldn’t tell if I was sick or mad at her when I silently handed her coffee and breakfast.
Chapters VIII – XIX regulate the Divine Office/eight canonical hours. I looked into this. There’s even an app for it. Eleven apps, per one search, which created more complication to figure out which app and which devices I should put it on (phone, watch, computer, all?). I did not have time to organize this convenience.
Chapter XLVIII specifies daily manual work. Best I could tell, it varies by season but is always at least 5 hours a day. At this point, Feb. 21, I abandoned my originalist approach. No way I could get 73 rules made in time for Ash Wednesday and still do the three book group meetings scheduled for Shrove Tuesday AND eat pancakes. (I made all the meetings, but chose Mardi Gras cocktails over pancakes.)
The next day, I turned to some layperson-friendly materials where experienced wise people have created simplified guidelines—Rule of Life Cliffs Notes. Lent had started and, so far, I’d just had the idea of making a Rule. I didn’t have one. The first worksheet told me to decide on how much time I can allocate to my focused spiritual practice. Ah, time. It was time to prep for three other book groups. As I opened a book, phone and watch timers dinged and buzzed with “tasks due” reminders. It became clear that I didn’t have time to do the worksheets, much less “sit with it” over time (2 weeks!) to see what ideas fit for my Rule. I tossed the worksheets and opened my computer. I needed to make a Rule and make it now. I was way behind on reading—in my urgent quest to learn everything possible about spirituality, community, and practice, it turns out I committed to 6 book groups this month.
“That sounds like graduate school,” a friend said. Except in graduate school I was single, didn’t have pets, and rented a house. My To-Do list consisted of showing up at work, showing up at class, reading, and feeding myself. My current life includes a multi-page, everchanging list of things to do, people to meet, meals to prepare, exponential house projects, kids—grown (but still), dogs, extended family, friends. It’s a daily exercise in managing abundance. Oh, and my gratitude practice. For all my scattered ambition and lofty spiritual posturing-which-I-call-seeking, I am grateful for this full life even though it drives me crazy.
Two weeks in to Lent and I never got off the starting block. A Rule of Life, as I am beginning to understand it, is made of chapters where each chapter represents an area of my life. In each one, I write what I hope that area will be—one book used the analogy of a map for a hike. Reading a chapter of my Rule each day reminds me of what my hope is. It is a daunting task to create a Rule, this map of my idealized life. I can’t even organize a two-week vacation without a travel agent.
Though I failed at creating my Rule of Life to practice this Lent, I did figure out that I’m part of a wonderful community of wise spiritual seekers here at The Abbey—companions willing to share their experiences, point me to resources, and most of all, remind me to be still and listen. Which I will do as soon as some of these book groups are done.