Saints Like Us
My personal hero/guiding saint is Mr. Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame. He was an ordinary, modern American, working in high stress jobs (television & ministry), who still somehow managed to be a model of a good person by all accounts. His widow says she doesn’t want him to be considered a saint, because she thinks that if people start calling him a saint, they’ll discount the hard work he put into being the person he was.
I disagree. It is that he did put so much work into being the person he was that makes Mr. Rogers so worthy of emulation. From interviews I’ve read and seen with his family, friends, and coworkers, newspaper articles and many biographies, I’ve created a Rule of Life based on Mr. Rogers’ life.
What is a Rule of Life?
The use of the word ‘rule’ here is as ‘guide’ or ‘measurement.’ One of my favorite Rules comes from the Northumbrian Monastic community. They refer to their rule of life as, “a framework for freedom, calling us back to our foundations.” I find this definition easy to relate to, and followable.
I had a drafting teacher who called our big, desk-wide T-ruler our guide and the first thing he had us do on every drawing was to draw a baseline. If you took your drawing to him with a question, the first thing he would do was look for that baseline. If you didn’t have it, the answer was always the same: “Where’s your baseline? Without a baseline you’re always going to run into trouble.” A Rule of Life is a baseline, our “framework for freedom, calling us back to our foundation,” and it’s there to help us keep from running into trouble.
An ordained Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers understood his entire viewing audience as his cure of souls and he took nurturing his own spirituality very seriously. Ministry can be exhausting, as is creating a daily television show for children. Here are some baseline rules he set for his own framework for freedom:
- He kept a strict sleeping schedule – in bed by 9:30pm and up at 4:30am every day (with allowances for naps as necessary)
- He made time for spiritual renewal – he read the Bible every morning for 1 hour to start his day
- He exercised regularly – he swam laps almost every morning of his adult life
- He limited his distractions – he read often and widely; he rarely watched tv even though he starred in and produced a wildly successful show
- He made time and space for others – he answered all of his own mail personally for many years, and only later in his career did he hire someone to help him, but even then he still read every letter and signed every response
- He made time for hobbies – he practiced piano daily, and song writing often; he wrote over 200 songs in his career
Create Your Own Baseline Rule
My own Rule is patterned on what I see in Mr. Rogers’ life. I think there is value in creating a rule that works for us as individuals, whether it is patterned on Fred Rogers or a monastic community.
Start simply, with just a few things:
- Set aside 5 minutes every day to pray, maybe just after you wake up.
- Feed your soul every day, whether through reading scripture, or spending time in nature, or practicing a hobby.
- Get a good night’s sleep each night, whatever that is for you.
Shawn Rutledge is a Postulant for the Priesthood in the Diocese of Arizona in the Episcopal Church, and a middler at Virginia Theological Seminary. You can find more of his writing on his blog at StillDiscerning.com.