This sermon is part of a Lenten preaching series on “Growing a Rule of Life.”
Rules of Life & the Rhythms of Nature – Br. James Koester
Our Relationship with God – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Our Relationship with Self – Br. Mark Brown
Our Relationship with Others – Br. David Vryhof
Our Relationship with Creation – Br. Keith Nelson
Living in Rhythm and Balance – Br. Luke Ditewig
Growing a Rule of Life: To subscribe to a daily morning email with a short video and download a PDF of the accompanying workbook enter your name and email.
More information here: SSJE.org/growrule
Gen. 1:1-5, 26-27/Ps. 8/Matthew 17:1-8
We continue this evening with our sermon series on Rule of Life. These sermons are coordinated with our daily Lenten video offering “Growing a Rule of Life”. There are about 30,000 people sharing this project with us; many are using a workbook as a guide for the series—you can get one at the back of the chapel, or you can download it from our website www.ssje.org.
A rule of life is simply a rhythm or structure or framework meant to help create balance in our lives, to help us “keep the main thing the main thing”. We’ve organized this series around four relationships: our relationship with God, our relationship with others, our relationship with creation, and our relationship with our own selves. These are all interrelated, of course: you can’t really talk about one without the others. But for the sake of discussion and focus, they’ve been divided up this way. This evening’s topic: our relationship with our selves.
Since our topic is rule of life, I’d like to do a little cross-referencing to our own SSJE Rule of Life. You can order a copy or you can download it at no charge from our website. Anyone developing a rule of life for themselves will find the Brothers’ Rule a great source of ideas and inspiration. Since it was written before I came to the community, I can do a little bragging about it. Although it is a framework for one community’s life together, I would guess that about 90% of it is applicable to any person living as a Christian. It’s about as good a handbook for living as a Christian as you’ll find. It has lots of practical, immediately accessible content; but it also has much that leads toward the deep end of the pool, spiritually and theologically speaking, should you be inclined to go in that direction.
I think the topic of relationship with ourselves is meant to be mostly about self-care, but I’d like to make a very quick dip into that metaphorical deep end of the pool before moving on to more practical things. This from Chapter 12 of the SSJE Rule, “The Spirit of Obedience”: “We are called to be obedient to our true selves as they are being formed in Christ.” The word “obedient” as used in our Rule is rooted in the idea of listening: to be obedient in the monastic sense is to listen deeply, to develop a contemplative awareness. “Our true selves” refers to what God is doing through time and eternity to bring us to completion, to perfection, to wholeness in Christ. In a sense, this “true self” already exists in the heart and mind of God. In terms of our lived experience, it is something deep within us that we become aware of over time, through life’s challenges, and in deep listening.
As we go about our lives, we are called to be attentive to the emerging reality of our true selves in Christ, our relationship is one of “obedience” to this true self, to use the language of our Rule. What we are to become, “our true selves” in Christ, is already with us, in a way, accompanying us in this life. Our Rule calls us into a process of deep listening or attentiveness to this true self. Of course, we don’t know exactly what this true self is, so beyond a certain point, this becomes an exercise of the imagination. The scriptural icon for this true self is the Transfiguration of Christ on the mountain: his transfiguration, the revelation of Christ’s true self points to our own. The Rule calls us to a relationship of “obedience” to our own transfigured self, i.e., to hold this vision in prayerful attentiveness—at least from time to time.
But let’s turn now to more practical things, what we might call self-care. In the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church [BCP 305] we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being—which includes ourselves. As creatures made in the image and likeness of God, and as the beloved sons and daughters of God, our own lives are worthy of the best care we can give them.
One of the chapters of the SSJE Rule that I think you’ll find most helpful for self-care is Chapter 41: “The Maturing of Our Minds in Christ”. It’s about life-long learning as a spiritual practice. Christ is the one through whom all things come into being, the one in whom all things hold together; therefore, a Christian world view properly claims everything in its purview, not just churchy things. There’s a big difference between Christianity and churchianity. A Christian world view reflects upon the whole creation. “Grace and truth” come into the world through Jesus Christ [John 1:18], the creating Word of God. He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Any truth-seeking, any scientific inquiry is perfectly consonant with a Christian world view. Even if we’re not scientists ourselves, we do well to follow what scientists are up to these days—as a spiritual discipline.
And since we are made in the image and likeness of the Creator, we, too are creators, or co-creators. Wherever creativity is, God himself is there. The arts, even when not explicitly Christian, are consonant with a Christian world view. A Christian world view reflects upon the whole human enterprise in all its variety and across every discipline: the sciences, the arts, wherever truth is found, wherever creativity is found, wherever the human spirit explores. A quote from Chapter 41: “…some of us will find in literature, philosophy, drama, film, music, dance, and the visual arts springs of vital truth if we approach them keenly in the Spirit.”
The possibilities are endless, but a rule of life should include our plans for broadening our horizons, not only spiritually, but intellectually and aesthetically. If we are to see God in all things, it helps to begin to get a sense of “all things”.
Another crucial chapter related to self-care is 45: “Rest and Recreation”. We need rest, even Jesus needed rest. It’s both a creaturely need and an essential component of our covenant with God: we are to rest on the Sabbath. A rule of life will outline what our intentions are for rest. What will we do weekly? Monthly? Yearly? Daily? How will rest be woven into our lives? It needs to be part of the plan—and that’s all I need to say about that.
Actually, the whole SSJE Rule speaks to our relationship with our selves, directly or indirectly, but I’ll mention one more chapter, Chapter 44: “Maintaining Our Health and Creativity”. Jesus did a lot of healing–there are lots and lots of healing stories in the Gospels. I think that means that, on the whole, Jesus thinks good health is preferable to sickness! Yes, God’s power can be made perfect in our weakness, as Paul says. And some people overcome illness to do great things. But for most of us most of the time being well is better than being unwell.
I think this is because, generally speaking, we can be more effective “co-creators” with God when we’re well than when we’re sick. God is working in and through us to build this thing called the “Kingdom of God”. We all have creative work to contribute to this multi-generational, out-there-somewhere-in-the-future project, each of us in his or her own way. And, incidentally, creativity is not necessarily “artistic”. Creativity can also be functional or utilitarian or technological—it’s all good, it all reflects the image and likeness of God in which we are made. It’s significant that the writers of the SSJE Rule put reflections on both health and creativity in the same chapter. A personal rule of life will include plans for maximizing our health: plans for exercise, our relationship to food, recourse to professional medical care.
In closing, I’d like to circle back to the idea of being “obedient” to our true selves, as the SSJE Rule puts it. We are to be “obedient”, in the contemplative sense, to our true selves “as they are being formed in Christ”—our true selves, our fully transfigured selves. But we are also called in the Gospel to love our selves: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. We are to love that which we are coming to be in Christ, that is, our transfigured selves. But, we are also to love our selves “as they are being formed”. “As they are being formed”—that is, in process, in the process of formation. We need not wait. We are called to love our selves in all our incompleteness, all our weakness and frailty, our brokenness, even in our sinfulness.
We can meet Christ in his love for us and for all people even now. Even now, while we are still works in progress. Love, of course, is the validation of any spiritual practice. Whether it’s contemplative prayer or journaling or making retreats or cultivating mindfulness or writing one’s own rule of life, spiritual practice is ultimately about loving, about being better lovers. And about being fully alive in Christ. And to be fully alive is to be fully in love.