Sunday, February 8, 2009

An Ordered Life

In the weeks after my mom died, I bought my first mop. Understand, I'd been cleaning my floors all along. But my mother believed that a floor was not well and truly mopped unless one performed the chore on her hands and knees. Mom's rule--but I'd made it so completely mine that it never really occurred to me that there was any other way. At least, not until two weeks or so after her death. In the midst of a flurry of compulsive cleaning--a most physical manifestation of grief--it occurred to me: I could buy a mop.

And yes, I can see the thin line of not-quite-clean against the baseboards. Every so often during a so-called "spring cleaning"--which doesn't happen every spring--I deal with those edges. But mostly I've replaced Mom's rule with my dad's: "If you can't see it from the highway . . ."

I remembered this kitchen floor epiphany yesterday while wielding a sponge mop over linoleum that hadn't seen said mop in a very long time. (Let's just say, Mom would have been horrified.) I thought about how easily and unconsciously we adopt the rules set forth by those we love.

Except when it comes to God. God's rules--love God, love others--are fewer and far simpler than my mother's "purity laws" yet so much more challenging. And maybe this is why religious orders spell it all out in a "rule of life" their members must follow--a detailed explication of what those two simple rules actually look like when lived out.

For my friends who wonder what a rule of life looks like, check out a bit of Benedict's rule. The length and scope of The Rule of Benedict suggest he was something of a micromanager. But he's not alone. The Order of Julian of Norwich features a rule of life, or customary, that spans 50+ pages. So much for simple. In many communities, those entering the order are ceremoniously presented with a copy of the order's Rule which now trumps any rules they've made for themselves.

The word order and the word ordained come from the same Latin root which relates to "arranging" or "putting in order." Some people think ordination implies specialness and heirarchy--and there is some hint of that in the word root which also has to do with "ranking." But more accurately, ordination marks one's entry into an Order of ministry. (In the Episcopal Church ordained ministers include bishops, priests, or deacons; all baptized lay persons are also considered ministers responsible for living out the baptismal covenant.) An ordained person is said to have entered an "ordered life."

Over the next few blog entries, I'll reflect on some of the rules of the diaconate--as revealed in the diaconal ordination vows--and I'll speculate on how they might "order" a life.

As for the kitchen floor, I'm rather favoring the robot.


  1. I always tell my children the rule is--DO GOOD. BE GOOD.
    At church they saythe rule is--LOVE GOD LOVE PEOPLE.
    My current rule of life is just THANK YOU.And IF I AM LATE TO A MEETING I AM REQUIRED TO BUY THE COFFEE.
    I have to keep it simple or I forget.But there is some merit to NO PAIN NO GAIN.

  2. When the robot is done at your house can he come to mine?

    My rule - do what is right. I feel comfortable in my own skin when I do the right thing. A lot of peripheral just sort of drops away. The conundrum is my wild love affair with trying to be perfect. What is it, something about what you can see from the highway...

  3. Goat, I'm rather found of you current rules. Especially the second one.

    B, name it and claim it, girl: If you can't see it from the highway . . .

    I'm rather in favor of simplicity as well. Any thing else seems to too easily spin off into legalism. What's interesting to me is that the founders of these orders recognized that one person's "love others" might vary from another's. I've read that witch hunters actually thought they were doing their victims a favor by burning them at the stake because it released the soul. Hmm. So, sometimes specificity is in order. (Though can you ever be specific enough to thwart the corruption of a fallen world?)

    Another thing that comes to mind: these really detailed rules of life were designed to help a certain subset of folks live in community in a particular way (that is with their particular spin on Jesus' Big Two). It's part of what makes the Trappists different from the Jesuits, for example. And the community was exclusive and extremely tight (claustrophobic perhaps, for us) with obedience and submission being "the" way. We really don't do community that way any more (not even with our families).

    So I think it will be fun to look at the diaconal vows and see how they might play out in a 21st century life and in a "community" of deacons that's more like a professional organization (from what I can tell, anyway). Stay tuned . . .

  4. Oh dear, I hope no one thought I was serious about the being perfect thing - only just plagued by perfectionism. Isn't that the ugly twin sister to pride?

  5. No worries. You were clear in saying "trying to be perfect" an impossible state that I'm all too familiar with.