Religious “rules,” like the Rule of St. Benedict for example, have inspired noble souls for centuries. At best, they stabilize our traditions and guide us into a deep sustaining way of life. With the age of indulgence almost at its peak, disillusioned consumers need gentle instruction on embarking upon retreat, stepping back from the stress of acquisition and forward into the bliss of letting go. Here’s our suggestion for a new religious rule for today. (See a definition of asceticism here.)
Chapter 1. On the nature of material goods that enter our lives. Let simplicity and function be our guide. Beauty in usefulness; usefulness in beauty. Excess is cumbersome and tends to the ugly.
Chapter 2. On the nature of each morning. Days are numbered in increments of thousands, if we have the presence of mind to behold the moment, if even for a while. Pause before eating. Wait before leaving. Breathe upon stepping outside. In so doing, practice the presence of infinity.
Chapter 3. In regards to downward motion. For those in higher positions, a downward move brings vulnerability and depth of spirit. Upward mobility is the pathway of acquisition, attachment and insecurity. The pathway down is dark, but resplendent with grace. It is the journey of the cross, where death is overcome.
Chapter 4. On our orientation to the center. Life on the periphery, at the edges of society, is where, surprising joy is found. This is the secret of places abandoned by elites: inter-dependence and community. Back lanes, inner cities and rural towns: dwell here and meet the holy, un-packaged, un-glamorous and astounding.
Chapter 5. On the dangers of media. Recognize the distance the mind must travel to comprehend messages mediated by technology. Resist the temptation to succumb to these distractions – in part to appreciate that which is unspectacular, in part to reduce the power of the message senders, and in part to enjoy silence and the company of others.
Chapter 6. On recognizing life. Be aware of the face of life itself in all people. In the rich – who may struggle with humility and generosity, who need compassion and critical words. Also in those whom we fear, those we consider strange, those who are in need and even in yourself. Our attachment to material things can blind us to the light within each person. This needs our constant attention.
Chapter 7. On the direction of our worship. Make your worship pertain to this world. God is here and everywhere, in the beginning and the end. The very moment, in the current place, is a possible encounter with the fullness of life. Some are prone to fantasy and struggle with the temptation to escape. Small, concrete actions of gentle love are enough. Sing a song with friends. Know that the present moment is full of adequate mystery and divinity.
Chapter 8. Of our manner of acquisition. Let workers be recognized for their labor, for our connection is to all who toil for the goods we acquire. Seek the closest connection with workers and production; make an effort to produce your own goods. Learn names and think of them as you acquire goods through barter, scavenging or purchase.
Chapter 9. On the role of generosity. It foils false desire and fosters lightness of touch that leads to joy. Let an easy way be your guide in caring for things. Give to those in need, and let the spirit of life guide you to the joy of just redistribution of wealth. Even charity must be tested: guard against collective generosity when it fortifies the power of those who give.
Chapter 10. As grace pertains to children . Innocence and play, trust and affection – these are virtues found among children. Allow children to interfere with plans; interruptions full of obvious questions and irrational conduct. These are lessons of life itself.
Chapter 11. Regarding the role of tradition. Consider religious institutions as anchors, keeping us ever steady in the sea of change. At the same time, question official piety and power, especially when it adopts a rigid stance toward the weak and disenfranchised. This is the healthy tension of community.
Chapter 12. On the manner of prayer. Pray regularly, with words as needed, but mostly with posture. Life itself beckons us. We participate in this abundance as we seek the gentle liberation of the earth and its inhabitants.
Finally, practice non-violence in speech and conduct, and proceed into a world teeming with life itself with a spirit of openness.
Aiden Enns is publisher and co-editor of Geez magazine.