A ‘Rule of Life’ for these strange times?

Could creating or living by a Rule of Life be good for you in this extraordinary time?

I am part of a religious order (the Methodist Diaconal Order, MDO) and of the many things that means, it means we have a ‘Rule of life’. That may sound a bit harsh or restrictive, mainly because of the word ‘Rule’ I guess! But in fact, it is a way of sustenance, strength, freedom and also challenge.

So I am wondering whether this time  – which for many of us, even if only sometimes, can be a time of change, fear, illness, instability, uncertainty – is the ideal time for each of us to consider our own ‘Rule of life’? It may begin as temporary in this time of crisis and we can decide whether to change it in coming months.

There are many perspectives on ‘Rules of Life’, but for me, the word ‘Rule’ in this context can be seen as ‘rhythm’, ‘pattern’,  ‘routine’ or ‘practice’ – much like the ‘Rules’ that govern nature – the sun ‘by Rule’ rises and sets, the sea ‘by Rule’ ebbs and flows, and so on…

I find within our Rule of Life, the way to live in a rhythm or pattern that enables me to fulfill the ministry of my vocation as a Methodist Deacon. It also makes space within it for my vocation as a wife, family member and friend. The particular challenges of that vocation are supported, strengthened, and enabled to be sustained by living in the way the Rule guides.

For me, the Rule of Life helps me keep to a discipline, which is shared in our Order, and it challenges me to live in the way I have committed to. I seek to live in this way and to ‘inhabit it’ each day. It is not something to ‘beat myself up with’ but something I work with and try to ‘breathe in’ and become, recognising that sometimes I will be more ‘in tune’ than at others.

For me, it is also about balance – between living my interior life and exterior life, between time consciously given to ‘work’ and time consciously ‘switching off’ from that work. It reminds me that other people are important and that the vocation isn’t about being ‘busy doing good’ but about living the life I’m called to live. 

I wonder what your ‘Rule of Life’ would need in it to support, strengthen and enable the ministry of your vocation to be sustained?  Your vocation, your life-calling, may feel quite different at the moment than in usual times. We usually talk about ‘vocation’ in long term language, but in these days, I believe we can find our vocation, our life purpose, a useful way to look at what is newly being required of us at the present time and in coming days, which we very much hope will be short-term. You may suddenly be finding that your usual rhythms and routines are impossible, and that the way that you normally keep your balance and sustain your good humour, is under severe pressure, especially with social activities and gatherings only possible over the internet and gyms and interest groups needing to close. You may suddenly be at home more than you’re used to, or alone more than you’re used to; you may suddenly trying to work and parent full time, at the same time, or may be struggling to keep working in a ‘keyworker’ job which is under extraordinary pressure.

A Rule of Life can help to find that balance and remind us who we are, even in times of stress. It can help us to mentally ‘take a step back’ or pause for a moment to wonder how we respond in the context of our vocation.

In this sudden change of routine for most of us, this is when having a Rule of Life feels even more crucial that it could otherwise.

I encourage you to have a look at some Rules of Life, including if you like, the MDO Rule of Life (there are several links to Rules of Life at the end) and if you can, copy out the parts that resonate with you and make some additions that will be useful to you – you could ‘glean’ something from several perhaps?

All of these Rules of Life will have been written specifically for the vocation the followers of that Rule are called to. Therefore, looking at your own vocation will be important in deciding what to include in your Rule of Life. You may find it now in paid or unpaid work, in your life of prayer, in relationships and roles in family life, friendships and in other commitments.  

In writing your own Rule of Life, if you are in a faith group, you may want to include aspects like worship and prayer (in ways that work with who you are), serving God and others, thinking each day or week about how God is involved in your life and the lives of others and how you might be being challenged to grow or change? You may want to commit to things/people you find life-giving, and to ensure you take periods of time ‘off’ for rest, and finding support. Vocation can be multi-faceted, and so your Rule of Life can reflect what you need to help you in that that means right now. It isn’t about writing yourself an impossible list, or something akin to ‘new years resolutions’, but to guide and enable, sustain and support.  

A Rule of Life is generally a guide and written in a way that gives space for each day to unfold differently – it is more ‘principles’ than a tight schedule.  A helpful guide on writing your own Rule of Life is referenced below.

There are many more things one could write about having a Rule of Life – the MDO is currently consulting on ours and whilst some common themes are emerging, it is also true that there is a diversity in how we express it, and what it means for each, and how it ‘works’ for each. We are all different, even though we all follow the same Rule. The Rule has space in it for both diversity and unity. Most Rules of Life are shared, and one is accountable to others in how one lives it (for example, in the case of a Religious Order) and indeed, you may want to get together with people you live with, or chat on the phone/online with friends about writing a shared one? 

I believe that in this particular time, having a Rule of Life that you find sustaining and supportive, that offers you some guide and balance, which can be as simple as you like – could offer anyone – of a faith group or not, and in a group or following it alone – something special at this time.

Ruth Yorke

Useful links:

About the Methodist Diaconal Order Rule of Life (uk)

https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/the-methodist-church/the-diaconal-order/living-by-a-rule/

On writing your own Rule of Life: (this link is being difficult! please put ‘Methodist Church, writing a Rule of Life’ into your search engine if there is a space here!)

http://www.methodist.org.uk/media/5035/dd-explore-devotion-writing-a-rule-of-life-0313.pdf

The Benedictine Rule

http://www.benedictfriend.org/the-rule.html

The Franciscan Third Order, Rule of Life

The Iona Rule of Life (note differences for Community of Iona and Associate Members)

‘Love in the time of Covid-19’?

The title of ‘Love in the time of Cholera’ has got me thinking this week. Sadly I haven’t read the book, it’s just the title that has reverberated round my mind and heart this week.

In the midst of Coronavirus and the massive impact on our society, what is ‘Love in the time of Covid-19’? What does it look like? What does it mean? What does it ‘do’?

The answers to that are huge and diverse. One response might be that love does what it always does, but in the time of enforced social distancing, love just finds a different way to do it.

So love that generally embraces, holds, even shakes a hand, decides that for the sake of the other, the physical contact will be withheld and instead affection and warmth will be shown in another way. How? When we could still meet – through smiles, through caring enough to wash hands, stand far enough away to not accidentally carry infection to someone vulnerable? And now in social distancing we cannot be in such proximity… what does love mean?

In my own Christian tradition, and in my own ministry, bringing people together, building community, developing more links between people, building connections, is crucial and it’s what I’m about.

What is love in the time of Covid-19? What is my ministry of community in a time of Covid-19?

Strangely, love is now redefined as keeping our distance, but only physically. The phone, a long-time friend, is suddenly much more essential. Not just a way to make arrangements to meet, but the way we meet. The internet not just a source of information or social chit-chat and photo sharing, but an essential tool in maintaining relationships and care for each other.

This evening, my colleague and I hosted a messenger group chat and catch up where 9 of us shared how we are, chatted generally, laughed a lot, shared prayer concerns and ideas for ‘getting through this’. At the end of the call, I felt inspired by these wonderful people, and I think we all felt more positive about being able to ‘meet’ in this way again, indeed, whenever we want – ‘just click on the video icon and see who’s about’. Permission to connect.

In the next week, another colleague and I will pre-record our Sunday welcome, prayers and sermon, to be shared online, and daily prayers held at our church are already being streamed daily for anyone who wants to connect over the ether and join others in prayer.

Maybe working out what love is in this context will stretch our imaginations, stretch our hearts and minds?

A church member has ordered a mass of palm crosses, so that they can be sent out to folk for Palm Sunday, and is planning Easter cards. ‘It’s important people still know they are part of the church, that they’re remembered, that they belong’.

This is love in the time of Covid-19.

The pastoral group leaders are contacting every person on each of their ‘lists’ to check on people and see if there are unmet needs we can help with. Younger members or those less at risk are offering to do errands or make regular calls to people now isolated who are used to being able to get out.

Local people have put together a Facebook group to co-ordinate need requests from people self isolating or ill, with volunteers doing food collections and deliveries and errand-runners. I heard a story of a man who managed to get the last pack of 12 toilet rolls in a shop, only to end up sharing them, for free, with an older lady who’d grabbed for the same pack.

There is a trend for ‘viral kindness’. Love in the time of Covid-19. Making connections. Making friends of strangers.  

The Foodbank list is still up with foods most needed, but we now have also the cash donation page and the days in which they’re most desperate for volunteers – maybe love in the time of Covid-19 will change how we give to the Foodbank – cash and time rather than tins and packets?

Love in the time of Covid-19 means for me also includes making a list of friends and relatives I know will either now be home alone or home with children and making a plan to call and check on them, offer a listening ear, laugh together, catch up (when do I make time to call usually? Not as much as I mean to…).

Covid-19 is awful. It can kill. It is damaging and ruining lives.

And yet, Covid-19 is teaching us new ways to love, of connecting, of caring – and reminding us of ways to love that we don’t make time for.

Someone has written a beautiful piece akin to a dream – that we will, hopefully in just a few months – be able to appreciate more the simple things we took for granted – being able to meet a friend for coffee, being able to meet together for planning events, worship, prayer, socialising, going to see a film or theatre –   maybe Covid-19 will remind us how much we have.

For some, Covid-19 is a daily, in-your-face crisis with sacrifices – health workers and others who are on the frontline, fighting the disease, a daily putting-themselves-at-risk that those sick or at high risk may be cared for. For others, it is a different crisis – one that makes their stressful job  more stressful, or makes their ‘normal job’ suddenly crucial (have we ever properly appreciated shop workers and people who drive lorries to deliver food to shops as much as we do right now? people who keep water, electricity, gas, internet and other services available to so many of us?)

For charities working with homeless people and refugees, the choice to currently keep services open is literally saving lives, and yet sacrificial – many homeless people and refugees have lower immunity – they are more at risk and the services are crucial, but it is hard to provide them without being in contact with each other.

Love in the time of Covid-19 for some involves sacrifice, for some just extra effort and stress. For those of us on the receiving end of services, maybe love in the time of Covid-19 includes appreciation, gratitude, recognising the people who are really crucial to our lives.

Love in the time of Covid-19 may be about being aware of the value of others and affording worth to those who are so crucial but who are used to being overlooked, and underpaid. About understanding what’s important, finding news way to connect, to include and demonstrate belonging, new ways to care and appreciate and attribute worth.

What, for you, is ‘love in the time of Covid-19’?

Ruth Yorke

Gendered words for God

In the Mongolian language, ‘Tir’ means ‘she’ or ‘he’ (but not ‘it’) – so in worship, and in referring to God, it is more inclusive because ‘tir’ means ‘he or she’ so is effectively, ‘gendered person’. In English not so. Until about twenty years ago, I was quite happy with ‘he’, ‘Father’, ‘Lord’, ‘Master’ when referring to God.

Steve Shaw writes[1] about how the words we use for God can excite in us what we most need to understand about God, or need in God. God as ‘King’ emphasises that our God is the most powerful, the one in command, control, the one to whom all must bow. God as ‘warrior’ emphasises that our God is strong and can defend and protect. God ‘compassionate’ emphasises that our God is rich in kindness, gentleness, understanding. When in particular need of protection, we may choose one word, when in particular need of gentleness, we may focus on another. This is not because God has ceased to be the other things, but because our own needs lead us to focus. Understood as all those things, God is powerful, able to defend and protect, kind and gentle with us. This moves towards a fuller understanding. Each term is correct, but together they create a fuller picture. (Other examples include God the Good Shepherd, God the rescuer, God the Faithful, God our Refuge, God our Provider… ).

This gets me thinking about the gendered words we use. God as ‘she’ and ‘he’, God as ‘mother’ and ‘Father’ are all who God is, and my own focus can reflect what I most need at that time, but also help me to grow in my understanding of who God is. We associate certain traits with the feminine and with the masculine (not always correctly) and so I find I need to understand the ‘she’ of God, not only the ‘he’. I am realising that what I need is not just a word like ‘Tir’ which can mean either ‘he’ or ‘she’ (but does not mean ‘it’), but one which means ‘all’, ‘he, ‘she’, ‘intersex’, ‘non-binary’, and all the varying identities of gender, because it is not that God is male and female, it is that God is all. God is all genders, because God is complete, whole, the ultimate, and we all, in all our gender identities, are made in the image of God.

So I need in my hymns and in my bible readings and in my thinking, God the powerful ‘he’, God the powerful ‘she’, God the powerful ‘intersex’, and so on, God who is all in all.

I started an experiment several years ago, that in hymn singing (of which I do a lot as a Methodist!), I would alternate ‘he’ and ‘she’ when they referred to either creator God or the whole trinity. I don’t mind generally referring to Jesus as male, because I understand that as far as we know historically, Jesus was male (although I personally think it could easily be argued that Jesus was intersex, but that is another paper). But the Holy Spirit, has always had feminine pronouns – in Hebrew, ‘ruach’, is feminine and used to refer to God’s Spirit. Wisdom, another synonym for God in the Old Testament, is ‘Sophia’, also feminine. Hence there is Scriptural integrity in not referring to the Trinity as only masculine.

My experiment has made me think about who I am singing to (is ‘he’, to Jesus? Or is it to the Trinity of God?). It has also transformed some hymns for me and made me feel more connected and that my understanding of who God is grows as I think and worship.

I have (bravely!) suggested to some congregations that in the hymn, ‘Praise my Soul the King of Heaven’, verse 3 could be trialled with female words and pronouns. ‘Father-like he tends and spares us’… since I started singing this verse instead, the verse makes more sense to me:

‘Mother-like she tends and spares us, well our feeble frame she knows, in her arms she gently bears us, rescues us from all our foes. Praise her, praise her! Praise her, praise her! Widely as her mercy flows’.

Suddenly to me, this connects. It is not that those traits are exclusively feminine, but they easily fit with the feminine and in the desire for a more encompassing understanding of God, changing those words helps expand my vision of God.

In some of our hymns the gender language just doesn’t work for women singing it at all. My strongest example is ‘I am the bread of life’ with the chorus, ‘and I will raise him up…’. In this hymn, Jesus is the ‘I am’ in each verse. The other pronouns relate to the believer. Therefore, the fact that all the other pronouns are male needs to be adjusted so that it is clear that it not just male believers who will not hunger, never thirst, be drawn to Christ, raised up. That hymn has transformed for me now that I either alternate the gender of the pronouns or just sing ‘she’.

I am aware that for some people, this will set their eyes rolling… ‘it doesn’t matter, it means everyone’. I grew up in the 1970s. Before we were aware that the language was exclusive, my friends and I would giggle at the part in the creed where we were expected to join in saying, ‘for us men and our salvation’ – we found it hilarious to say ‘us men’ about ourselves. We weren’t being politically correct, difficult, over-sensitive or easily offended. It just felt like a silly thing for us as little girls to say.

I will never forget being a communion service for the first time when the ‘new’ Methodist Worship Book was used (1999 edition) and in the communion liturgy, I heard, ‘for our sakes (Jesus) became human’. It ‘hit me’ like a bolt, that Jesus had become like me, human. I’d been hearing the creed for more than 30 years at that point, and never felt excluded by ‘for our sake he became man’ – Jesus was, history understands, male. Nothing incorrect about that language.

I now call this language ‘passive exclusion’. It is not deliberate, not intentional, may not even raise an eyebrow when it is used. People may not bristle at it or feel actively excluded (I did not). But I now understand that I didn’t feel included either – it is passively exclusive. I heard and spoke that language in my own beloved Church, for more than 30 years, and it took until 1999 for those words in the creed to ‘hit me’, purely because of the language.

Using different words has also affected my vision of God, my understanding of God, when I sing some of the more ‘warrior like’ language with ‘she’ also. The picture in my mind of a strong male character ready to protect, defend, fight for me, be ‘in my corner’ is different than the picture in my mind of a strong female character ready to protect, defend, fight for me, be ‘in my corner’. It is not that one is better than the other, more than they complement each other and help me get a fuller picture.  

I find myself becoming irritated now with the language in hymns which state that God created us all, ‘male and female’, binary genders, as if that somehow encompasses ‘us all’. I know the hymn-writers mean well, but ‘male and female’ is not ‘us all’. ‘Us all’ is much broader than binary understandings of gender. God is much bigger than binary understandings of gender.

Yes, God made male and female in the image of God. But people who are intersex, people who are non-binary, people who are transgender, are also made in the image of God. Just as ‘God made day and night’, but also made twilight, dawn and dusk, I now understand ‘God made them, male and female’ as short-hand[2]. God made people in God’s image – in all our gender identities.

So I am changing into someone who struggles with many of the hymns and songs I used to love, and with language which used to be natural and beautiful to me. I now want to change it, make it properly all-inclusive. I want to have a word which really means us all, and a gender-word for God that includes ‘all’.

For now, I will stick with changing the words for myself, sometimes changing ‘he’ for ‘she, changing ‘male and female’ to ‘us all’ as I sing, and hoping that as living language changes and grows, we will come up with a word that really encompasses us all.


[1] Shaw, S., Dancing with your Shadow, 1995, SPCK, pp.93ff

[2] I owe the articulation of this idea to a facebook post by Asher O’Callaghan, shared in October 2018

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