I recently decided to begin the path to becoming an associate of the Community of St. Mary in Sewanee, Tennessee. I met members of this order of Episcopal sisters through friends Diane Moore and Vickie Sullivan, and last spring, Joshua and I performed at a fund-raiser at University of the South for their Organic Prayer Intern Program. We stayed with them for several days, and were wrapped in their hospitality and the rhythms of their convent life. I wrote about the time in this post.
As an associate of this Benedictine community, one writes one’s own Rule of Life, based on Jesus’ great commandment: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
A Rule of Life. I’ve been wondering about what exactly that might look like for me. My initial responses to writing such a rule were akin to making New Year’s Resolutions – which I don’t make, by the way. I exercise regularly, my eating habits tend to be somewhat cyclical but generally healthy, and I usually have some inspirational reading at hand.
Then I thought a rule of life might resemble a Lenten discipline. Well, maybe it does, but not of the “give up” type – at least, I hope not, because (with one notable exception) I haven’t given up anything for Lent in years. I focus on doing something instead of not-doing-or-having something. (The one recent exception was when I gave up whining for Lent. That was powerful, and had some long-lasting consequences. A good thing.)
Then, inspiration came. Back in January, I went on retreat with a retreat leader I’d met before, Pasha Hogan. The retreat was hosted at a friend’s home, my friend Lyn who hosts the Sacred Center.
One thing that came clear for me during the retreat was that I really tend to put myself down. “I don’t deserve it” is a mantra that I know is left over from childhood. “Deserving” is ridiculous, anyway, in the face of divine grace and mercy – we don’t deserve any of that, but we get it anyway.
Who, then, do I think I am to think that I am apart from that? Am I so specially dreadful that I am Uniquely Undeserving? Just who do you think you are?!?! Do you think you are in a special class of wretchedness?
Nah, I’m just your regular garden-variety wretch, thank you very much. No special treatment here, just Standard Salvation.
I joke about the fact that in my growing up and college years, I had more religion classes and Religious Studies courses than most do unless they take holy orders. I joke that it made me lose my religion! The truth behind that joke, though, was that I felt so much focus on the fact that my mere existence was something to be ashamed of. That made no sense, because our human nature is to be – well, human – and therefore prone to mistakes. Hopefully, this makes us learn from experience. I was confused, as I would also hear that we were made in God’s image.
At some point, I started over by accepting only one premise: God loves us. God loves me. From that healing starting point, my faith and spirituality grew.
However, I realized that I sometimes just pay lip service to accepting forgiveness. I still need to forgive myself for not being perfect, AND forgive myself for expecting myself to be perfect!
So, my Rule of Life. I based it on an adaptation of some things Pasha shared with us on retreat.
Just for today….
I accept myself as I am, allowing Divine Love to work through me
I am my own compassionate witness
I allow myself to make beautiful mistakes.
I ask for and receive Divine Help and Grace.
This may sound all about loving self, but I think it’s a total package – loving God, neighbor, self. If I don’t create time for my spiritual and creative life, I am only “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” That segment from Paul’s letter is usually interpreted to be about loving neighbor and God, but I wonder – now that I think about it – if he wasn’t including love and caring for ourselves. How can we love God and neighbor as ourselves if we don’t love ourselves?
Accepting myself as I am, and accepting God’s forgiveness and help to do better, I become an open channel for Divine Love to work through me. I feel gratitude. I feel blessed and want to share blessings with others. As a beloved child of God, I recognize others as being the same, in spite of our differences. As a beloved child of God, I recognize that my body and mind and talents are all Divine Gifts (as is our earth). We care for God’s gifts out of joy and gratitude, and share our talents and time from the same love-filled heart.
I invite you to do the same, just for today. Accept and love yourself as you are, allowing Divine Love to work through you. And see what happens.