The Divine Hours

A complete guide to the ancient practice of fixed-hour Prayer

A Rule of Life

Paradoxically, some rules set us free

Getting ready to swim lapsWe have a challenging new machine at Curves. I wanted to write "agonizing," but I try to be positive in the morning. You stand at the front of the thing with a bar in your hands, which you push and pull up and down, close to your body and in front of you. Shoulders and pectoral muscles will become "defined," they say, if you use it. That can't be bad.

This machine, which I call "Beast II," is really called the "shrug dip." What an ugly name. It is as awful in its way as the squat machine—which I call "Beast I"—another real dog. You use the squat machine by placing a padded weight on your shoulders and squatting up and down.

I have thought that new exercise wear might help. Accordingly, I will wear a new powder blue yoga ensemble to Curves today instead of my "Jesus is coming— look busy!" tee shirt. It can't hurt.

Actually, I don't really feel like going at all. The flesh is weak this morning, and the spirit doesn't seem very enthusiastic either. But that's the fine thing about a rule: It doesn't depend on your feelings. You never ask yourself what you feel like doing. You just do it. That way, it gets done. Consult your feelings and you're liable to say the hell with it and stay in bed.

But doesn't it make you mechanical? Like a robot? Won't a rule take the spontaneity out of my life? And shouldn't I pay some attention to my feelings, as important messengers of the state of my true self?

I think the reverse is true: I think my rule sets me free. It gives me time for my spontaneous self. It gets the chores out of the way. It assures me that I will do the things I have decided I want to do, so that later I don't feel like a jerk because I didn't do any of them. And it does more than that: It provides me a place in which to allow the delight of these tasks to assert itself once again. Even when I don't feel like exercising, I always feel wonderful once I'm doing it and absolutely fabulous afterward. Even if I don't want to say Morning Prayer, I feel its blessing before I'm halfway through the first psalm. The rule teaches me, over time: teaches me to expect delight from the good things I have included in the rule. And you usually find delight when you expect it.

And yes, your feelings are messengers of yourself. But they are not the only part of you that is "true." That idea is an unfortunate legacy of the sixties, when we thought the only true self was the emotional self, that the mind and the will were unwelcome hall monitors in our heads, which needed to be gotten rid of as soon as possible. Disastrous, it was.

A balance. Between delight and duty. Between immediate gratification and long-term goal. Between rule and surprise. Between prayer and action, love and work. A grown-up balance in living.

Copyright ©2004 Barbara Crafton

From The Almost-Daily eMo from the Geranium Farm, e-mail messages sent by Episcopal priest and writer Barbara Crafton. Crafton's eMo's are published in book form by Church Publishing. Visit her Web site at