How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
— Annie Dillard
As travelling is to the pilgrim, so is rhythm to life. Rhythm is , it seems, hard-wired into the whole of creation. Day and night, the seasons, the cycle of birth and death, the ebb and flow of the tides, sleep and wakefulness…all serve as reminders of the rhythm of our world.
Human beings work best when they appreciate that we are creatures made to live in harmony with these natural rhythms. Alas, there is often a conscious effort to subvert or ignore these rhythms, particularly in the worlds of production and the city. Lighting and central heating make it possible to ignore day and night and even the seasonal changes to some degree. The 24/7 culture and the shift system wring the last penny or the last bit of work out of those who are its captives. In such a society it is not long before we see signs that the physical, mental and spiritual health of people begins to suffer.
Monastic life at its best has long stood as a prophetic symbol of a life of rhythm lived in harmony. The rhythm of prayer, work, rest and recreation are built into the system, and many people in our modern world have began to appreciate that what was seen as antiquated and outmoded actually has something to teach us, if we’re willing to look, listen and learn. The popularity of BBC television’s “The Monastery” and the proliferation of programmes and books on ‘monasticism-for-today’ that followed it are evidence that there is a hunger for a return to the sanity of rhythm and the wholeness it can bring. “New Monasticism”, where groups of believers are reinterpreting monasticism for today, has become part of the movement to discover contemporary ways of being church.
Monastic rhythm has at its heart two fundamental ideas. They are: a Rule of Life and a Rhythm of Prayer (or fixed hour prayer, as some call it). A Rule of Life brings balance to the pattern of our life over the course of a day, a month and a year. It is a way of ensuring that we get times of busy-ness and times of rest, times of receiving and times of giving out and times for ourselves, for others and for God in our lives. A Rhythm of Prayer is really a part of that overall Rule, but provides useful ‘punctuation points’ within the day to pull us up and keep us on track. This is a huge subject and I will probably return here with some of my own experiences of trying to live this way at some point (if I don’t get distracted!).
Although there are many books to help here, I have found the writings of Robert Benson to be particularly helpful, particularly his book about the Rule of St Benedict, “A Good Life” and his book on fixed hour prayer, “In Constant Prayer”. The Grove Booklet “Finding a Personal Rule of Life” may also be helpful. A quick search online will bring up huge lists on these subjects, evidence of their current importance.