Monday, August 7, 2017

Got rhythm?

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Image by Sophie Gallo
Think about a typical day in your life. What's the first thing you do when you wake up? What's your morning ritual? What do you do during your lunch hour? What's the last thing you do before you go to bed? We all have life rhythms. Every day, we do certain things at a certain time in a certain way. Most of the time, we don't even think about these habits; they are just a part of our life. Each of these small details may seem insignificant, but they are building blocks. The habits we inhabit are formative. This is because our life rhythms are connected to two big questions: What is the good life, the flourishing life? What is our vocation (what is God calling us to)?

Let's look at an example. Here is the daily rhythm of a Benedictine community in New Mexico called Christ in the Desert.

Vigils at 4 am (read 12 Psalms, scripture lesson, reading from Church fathers)
Lauds at 5:45 am (prayer and Eucharist)
Breakfast, personal time
Chapter Meeting at 8:30 am (work assignments, announcements)
Terce at 8:45 am
Work
Sext at 1:00 pm 
Lunch (eaten in silence listening to a short reading from the Bible - feed the mind and the body)
Rest and reading
None at 3:30 pm followed by tea and Lectio Divina
Vespers at 5:50 pm (praying Psalms, a hymn, intercession for needs and intentions of whole Church)
Supper
Chapter Meeting at 7:10 (reading part of rule of St. Benedict, commentary by abbot, intercession for prayers sent to monks)
Compline at 7:30 pm (confession, 2 Psalms, a hymn)
Great Silence (turn thoughts to resting in God, no unnecessary talk until morning)

Of special note are the seven times set apart for communal prayer: vigils (night), lauds (daybreak), terce (third hour), sext (sixth hour), none (ninth hour), vespers (sunset), compline (retiring for the night). Here we can see how the monks' vocations are tied to living a good life expressed through a rule of life or a daily rhythm. In other words, since they are called to be set apart from the world and spend their lives dedicated to God through prayer and work (vocation), they follow a particular rule of life which allows them to inhabit practices (daily rhythm) which lead them to grow in love and peace through contemplation and service (good life). The daily rhythm of Christ in the Desert community gives the monks the means to fulfill their vocation, and the structure provides both stability and consistency in the community. One could say that the rule of life gives them a track to run on in order to get where they want to go.

Let's look at another example. In the book of Daniel, we find a young man who is forcibly taken from his home in Israel when the country is invaded and the government overthrown. The best young men of Israel are shipped off to Babylon to serve a new master, and Daniel finds himself in a strange country with unfamiliar customs and religious practices. Daniel and his fellow captives are to be assimilated into this new culture, but Daniel is a worshiper of YHWH and carries on the rituals and rhythms he learned in his homeland, practices which reinforce devotion to YHWH and remind him that he serves the Lord God Most High, not the Babylonian empire. Daniel respectfully declines a royal diet, refuses to bow down to statues, does not accept gifts or bribes, speaks the truth even when his life is in danger, and most significantly, prays to YHWH three times a day with praises, thanksgiving, and petitions. This rule of life is what keeps Daniel on track. It is what keeps Daniel from being assimilated into the culture around him. His daily rhythms guide his affections and inform his allegiances.

In theology, we hear a lot about orthodoxy (right belief or doctrine), a bit less about orthopraxy (right practice), and even less about orthopathy (right affection or passion). Thanks to Descartes and modern philosophy, we in the West tend to see ourselves primarily as thinking beings, but this assessment is distorted. James K. A. Smith believes that we are first and foremost lovers. Our lives are shaped not by our thoughts and ideas but by our affections. He has written a book called You Are What You Love in order to help people see human persons not as "containers filled with ideas or beliefs, but rather ... dynamic, desiring 'arrows' aimed and pointed at something ultimate." [1]

Though believing (trusting) in God is certainly mentioned in the Bible, when Jesus is asked to name the most important command, he points toward love, a love which is aimed at God and at our neighbour. All other acts of devotion, all other truth, all orthodoxy and orthopraxy stem from Jesus's articulated orthopathy. The implications of this are quite significant, especially when we live in a culture skewed toward competitive individualism. If we are primarily thinkers, we will situate ourselves in ideologies, often in isolation. However, if we are lovers first, we will situate ourselves in a love story, in a family, in a community. While not everyone is capable of being a brilliant thinker, we all have the capacity to be brilliant lovers. Love is the very nature of God. Therefore, love is at the centre of what it means to be human and made in the image of God.

So what does this have to do with daily rhythms? And the good life? And vocation? Basically, what we love, what we give ourselves over to, what we worship, will shape our hearts, our lives, and our beliefs. Our desires point our lives in a certain direction, either intentionally or by default, so we would be wise to ask ourselves this question: To what ends do our cultural institutions (education, politics, arts, entertainment), our contexts of work and home, our relationships, our churches, and our daily habits direct our love? Like Daniel, we are sure to find some rivals for our affection in our cultural contexts. It is up to us to incorporate rhythms of life which will direct our love toward YHWH and our fellow human beings and remind us whose we are. Let us develop rhythms in our life which intentionally reflect our vocation and give us practical, daily habits that will lead us to live good lives, lives spent loving God and each other.

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[1] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 71. This book is a precursor to You Are What You Love.

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