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Center for Action and Contemplation
A Prayerful Rhythm of Life
A Prayerful Rhythm of Life

A Centered Life 

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Spiritual director Ruth Haley Barton describes a “rule of life” as key to experiencing the reign of God: 

Many of us try to shove spiritual transformation into the nooks and crannies of a life that is already unmanageable, rather than being willing to arrange our life for what our heart most wants. We think that somehow we will fall into transformation by accident.  

Jesus had something to say about this. He used parables to picture a person who had searched long and hard for something very valuable and very special. In one story the prized item is a piece of land; in another it is a valuable pearl [Matthew 13:44–46]. In both stories, the merchant has been looking for this prize all his life, and when he finds it, he doesn’t hesitate. He sells everything he has so that he can buy what he has been searching for.  

Both the field and the pearl are metaphors for the kingdom of God—that state of being in which God is reigning in our life and [God’s] presence is shaping our reality. The kingdom of God is here now, if we are willing to arrange our life to embrace it….  

Christian tradition has a name for the structure that enables us to say yes to the process of spiritual transformation day in and day out. It is called a rule of life. A rule of life seeks to respond to two questions: Who do I want to be? How do I want to live? … [or] the interplay between these two questions: How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be? [1]  

For pastor Ken Shigematsu, a rule of life is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution: 

A monastic rule of life can help us learn what it means to live so that we are attuned to God in our everything. A life that does more than pray sporadically, but is itself a prayer to God.… 

Having a set of deliberate practices also allows us to build on our strengths and shore up areas of weakness. If we are experiencing a failure of self-control, we might deliberately practice fasting…. If we find ourselves overcommitted and distracted, engaging in a daily rhythm of ten or twenty minutes of silent prayer that centers us or meditating on a brief single passage in Scripture (lectio) may be a helpful practice.  

On the other hand, if we have a naturally contemplative bent and find ourselves spending a disproportionately large amount of time in private prayer and solitude, adding another way of praying may not be helpful. In fact, we might consider decreasing the amount of time we spend in formal prayer and perhaps enter into practices of justice or service so we can grow as a contemplative in action….   

Ultimately, a rule can enable us to live our lives, as Thomas Kelly writes, “from a Center, a divine Center … a life of amazing power and peace and serenity, of integration and confidence and simplified multiplicity.” [2]  

[1] Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006), 146–147. 

[2] Ken Shigematsu, God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 20, 24, 25, 28; Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 93. 

Image credit and inspiration: Jenna Keiper, windows + sky fire (detail), 2020, photo, Albuquerque. Click here to enlarge image. Like these everyday windows at sunset, it’s possible to create conditions that reflect the beauty of Spirit in our very normal, everyday lives. 

Story from Our Community:  

At 65 years young I am seeing life differently—and I’m seeing God differently. I know God can’t love me any more than God does right now. I haven’t earned it, it’s God’s grace. Now I am coming to understand it’s not about doing enough, being enough, giving enough. Experiencing love each day is the unforced rhythm of God’s grace. The relief is indescribable. 
—Anne-Marie D. 

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