Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way
Stephen A. Macchia.
Reviewed by Jennifer Burns Lewis
I am devouring books on Benedictine practices like they’re ice cream flavors at my local store. As one who has explored oblate programs affiliated with Benedictine orders, I am enthusiastic about every opportunity to learn more about the Rule of St. Benedict and the myriad options to put into daily practice the simple, beautiful, practical guidance the Rule offers for the living of our days. Stephen Macchia’s Crafting a Rule of Life provides wisdom, guidance, resources galore and beautiful thoughts about living one’s faith with integrity, but only provides one of those tiny, pink sample spoon tastes of Benedictine thought.
Crafting a Rule of Life is a very orderly work. Divided into twelve session for groups or individuals, the cover proclaims it to be a “contemporary approach to St. Benedict’s Rule.” Indeed, there are wonderful suggestions for crafting a rule for a communal way of life, but the bulk of the book is geared toward the personal and only makes passing reference to St. Benedict as it seeks to offer signposts to spiritual reflection and invites some deeper diving into what it means to live one’s faith.
Part One, which comprises the first five sessions for study, invites us to frame our personal rule of life. Wonderful questions about primary relationships, gifts and talents, desires, longings and core values, a sense of vision and mission are all strong chapters with thoughtful framing questions that would work well in a group or individual study session. One of the strengths of Macchia’s book is his ability to weave in a wide array of quotations and references from classic to contemporary theologians, providing a fascinating assortment of conversation starters, sermon illustrations or simply offering food for thought that is nourishing and satisfying.
Part two is entitled “Forming Your Personal Rule of Life.” These next five chapters offer clear and practical ways to prioritize one’s sense of personal time, trust, temple (meaning physical), financial (treasure), and missional (talent) strategies. Again, while there are only fleeting tastes of commentary about Benedictine thought, there’s not shortage of reflection offered from others. Most especially, each lesson has a strong bible study which might prove to be the most effective and interesting part of either a group or individual study. Macchia’s style is not overly formal, but it is thorough and detailed. Any middle of the road to conservative theologian would find much food for thought and guidance in these lessons.
Part three is a two chapter section called “Fulfilling Your Personal Rule of Life” and invited the reader or student to commit oneself (or recommit) to a local congregation. Macchia approaches this section with sensitivity and thoughtfulness, gently reminding the reader of the vitality of faith that springs from being connected to and active within a local congregation. So many studies appeal to the reader’s individualism and personal journey, but Macchia is thoughtful and consistent in balancing the ten sessions on crafting a personal rule with strong presentations on community life and spiritual practice within the body of Christ.
The final section of the book offers four examples of individuals who have crafted personal rules of life. They’re interesting to read, but I imagine that it would be even more interesting to take up this study with a group of friends and acquaintances, with the resulting deepened relationships providing the whipped cream on the sundae.
Macchia’s book will be very helpful to individuals and groups who are looking for a study that accomplishes several things in a very balanced way. In Crafting a Rule of Life, students will find probing questions, solid biblical reflection, a really good guide to reformed church history, and a few sprinkles of Benedictine thought. It’s easy to imagine Crafting a Rule of Life serving as a wonderful study for those new to the Christian faith or for those who would like to know their own Christian faith more intimately. Easy to read, clearly organized and perfectly adaptable to a variety of settings, Crafting a Rule of Life would be an effective adult education study, seasonal endeavor, or personal exercise in pausing to organize one’s thoughts and feelings around a central calling from God. While it provides a taste of Benedictine thought, the Rule of St. Benedict is not the featured flavor of the month. Instead, it is a quiet, historic partner in the background and is accompanied by other classic and traditional flavors meant to provide accompaniment for a modern person of faith’s journey.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com