The 1,3,1,7 Rule.
Those who have gone to their own depths through contemplation uncover an indwelling Presence. Austrian philosopher Martin Buber (1878–1965) called this intimacy an “I-thou” relationship. It is a deep and loving “yes” to God and to life that is inherent within each of us…..Some saints and mystics have described this Presence as “closer to me than I am to myself” or “more me than I am myself.” Thomas Merton and others call it the True Self.
So writes Richard Rohr in one of his daily meditations. All of this sounds good and true for those who have a long and established discipline of prayer and contemplation.
But there are times in our lives when we wander from our True Self. Sometimes it is during a time of personal crisis, or a major life change. Sometimes it is because life has thrown us a curve ball and we toss and turn waiting for stability to return again, like a long night of sleeplessness.
For others we are NEW to the spiritual path. We are just waking up to the discovery of the Indwelling Presence in our lives. How do we tap this Presence? Where do we find it? How do we keep it alive and fresh over a life span without drying up?
When I was a Seminary Student taking Clinical Pastoral Education, I met a Priest who worked with priests struggling with personal issues. He was a member of the Paraclete Order. The Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete is a RC religious Order dedicated to ministry to priests and Brothers with personal difficulties. The congregation was founded in 1947 by Father Gerald Fitzgerald in Jemez Springs, New Mexico; they are named for the Paraclete – a representation of the Holy Spirit interpreted as an advocate or helper.
Years latter as an Episcopal Priest Spiritual Faculty of Episcopal CREDO, I met another Episcopal Priest, ex member of the Paraclete Order who shared with me a little about his own rule of life. According to him, all members of this religious community dedicated themselves to this as part of their Religious Rule. Even though he was no longer a member of this order, he has kept this rule of life his entire lifetime. I call the Rule the 1,3,1,7 Rule.
What is 1,3,1,7.?
It is a very simple formula and discipline for living a Spiritual life centered in Prayer and Contemplation.
It stands for
1 Hour a Day,
3 Hours a Week,
1 Day a month and
7 days a year.
In other words it is a simple and timely rule of life that nearly anyone can fit into in order to maintain a disciplined and active life of prayer and contemplation. It is flexible enough that any of the time used can be broken into sections…or periods, for example one hour a day might be broken into four periods of 15 Minutes. This is what Phylis Tickle advocates in her Fixed time of prayer 4 periods every day in her well known Book of Hours for all the different seasons and times of the church year. She promotes a division of the day into four periods. Morning, Midday, Evening and Night. It is there that she inserts daily psalms, antiphons and canticles according to the ancient Monastic Tradition of Vigils/Lauds, Sext, None, Terz, Vespers and Compline.
Another option would be to do 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the Evening combining some form of the Daily or Monastic Office Scripture Reading and or Contemplative prayer.
Or you may choose to do an entire hour at a time when you can be alone and quiet by yourself.
(Note: Remember the importance of setting up a Sacred Space for this ongoing practice. A place to sit. A Candle. Sacred Image of Images or Symbols. A home altar. Domus Ecclesiae.)
Three hours a week are set aside for Spiritual Reading. Again this can be done at brief intervals or one longer period every week. Spiritual Reading or what some call Lectio Divina which may be somewhat different for some, is basically being informed and formed by the Sacred Word. The Word of God spoken through the Sacred Scriptures or through Spiritual Writers either classic or contemporary that teach us about the spiritual journey and keep us growing and moving on the spiritual path. These authors may be contemporary or classical spiritual writers. Some of my favorites are Thomas Merton, Evelyn Underhill, and Esther de Waal. Spiritual Reading or Lectio are an essential part of Spiritual Life and Spiritual Growth.
One day a month is set aside for deeper prayer, reading, and reflection. When I was an active parish priest I used to set aside what I called Dinosaur Days. I called them Dinosaur days because someone gave me a gift of Dinosaur Decals which I would place willy nilly in my Liturgical and Date Calendar to indicate that this day would not be a work day but a day for quiet, reading, study, prayer, and contemplation. One day a month I would leave my home or office and seek a quiet place for my Dinosaur Day. Nearly always it was a Retreat House or MONASTERY. These were the places where I would have little interaction with people, where Quiet was the rule and not the exception, and where I could just get away and relax. Sometimes even catch up on some lost sleep when they were busy times.
As a rule, my quiet days were minimum six to eight hours alone, a full days work period, or even a little more when needed or possible, like an overnight flowing into the next morning. Currently now that I am retired and focus nearly all of my time on a monastic discipline of prayer, study, work, contemplation and service, I am able to take One day a week as my “Dinosaur Day”. I consider this a great Luxury yet far from a possibility for those called to a deeper discipline.
The minimum for this rule is One day a month set aside for those with normal or even busy schedules of work, play, and family responsibilities. This is usually very doable. If it is not, perhaps some more serious introspection on time management is in order!
Seven days a year are set aside as serious retreat days and time away and time alone. Even these days could be split up into blocks of time for those with busy schedule, though there is no replacement for getting away for at least seven days in a year to dedicate to ones soul, spirit, mind, and body. It is usually in these seven days when one can truly reflect on the seasons of one’s life. One can go deeper in to prayer. One can get a better handle on the surrounding circumstances that are influencing many of our feelings, sense of well being or uneasiness, our deeper longings and desires, and perhaps most important, the Will of God in our own personal lives and journey.
As I was about to retire as an active priest, into a more intentional monastic life, I was observing many new clergy that were confronting burnout and exhaustion very early on in there years of ordained ministry. It concerned me very much that these young priests and religious leaders were either leaving active ministry all together or quickly getting caught up in the “business” that their profession seemed to demand of them with no time for themselves, no self care, no discipline of prayer, study, rest, and contemplation. I remember one priest who reluctantly shared with me that she would get home at night and just plop down in front of the television and zone out for the rest of the evening after a hurried and poorly prepared meal. This was her “down time”. She was exhausted, lonely, depressed and empty. How could she feed her flock when she was living on crumbs that fell from the table of her life?
This may or may not be your experience. But most of us some time in our life find ourselves the “couch potato”, just letting life pass by. It was not long after that discussion with her that I gave away my television and to this day am a proud owner of a dog to take walks with instead of sitting long hours in front of a television screen. I now limit the time I sit in front of a screen every day and am ever so slowly adapting to reading books latter at night before I go to sleep.
Refinding our Spiritual Center is a process. But one has to start somewhere. The 1,3,1,7 rule has been with me now for much of my adult life. As I gently fold into my “golden years”, I have been able to stretch these times out even more to look like 3,1,3
3 hours a day, one day a week, three weeks a year. But honestly it is not about how many hours or days are spent in a years time in prayer, study, rest, and contemplation, as much as it is about truly finding ways to create Sacred Space for our lives on a
This is the crux of rebuilding and re—finding our Spiritual Center, our True Self, our deep and loving “yes” to God, and to life that is inherent within each of us.