Signal Virtue: Right Rule

Virtue: Love order and regularity

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 1,000 characters) about a time in your life when this positive trait or virtue contributed to or created a situation that had a positive impact on your life.
It is how I finished my second book this last year. Brief regular sessions of writing, no more than six or seven hours per day, and even that was pushing it. I know because I kept a record, clocking myself in and out every day.

Ideally, I would have stopped at four hours a day, but last summer I was on fire. Only once or twice, however, did I push myself beyond seven hours in a day. For the most part I kept myself to five or six.

I used a similar discipline to finish my dissertation (I have those time cards somewhere) and my first book. It was my dissertation advisor who gave me the idea of time cards. But it was Professor Boice’s advice about recovering from writer’s block that solidified the practice.

Not everything benefits from such record keeping. Counting calories or carbs, for example. Or keeping a record of bouts I have fenced.

Counting calories or carbs, I have learned, only makes me want to cheat. Keeping a record of bouts I have fenced makes me feel like I never improve, if after a bout when I think I have fenced well, I look back only to learn that my scores against particular fencers have not changed.

To count or not to count? Am I Luther or Loyola?

Luther, you may recall, had a moment of insight reading Romans, when he got to the passage about justification by faith alone (Romans 1:17). Previously, he had been obsessed with scrupulously itemizing his sins and was relieved to realize that he didn’t need to. Loyola, by contrast, developed a method of tracking his sins daily, making little marks on a graph to score himself up or down.

Of course I’m both. Or, rather, it depends what I’m tracking. Calories, carbs, or touches can only count against me. Hours practicing can only count for. I keep a similar record of my morning exercises and my fiddle practice as I do of my writing time.

Professor Peterson talks about making sure to schedule time for the things that we value. Keeping a record of my practice helps me see my success.
Alternative outcome: Write a short paragraph about what you might have done differently in that situation, so that it might have turned out even better.
I keep meaning to develop a practice of regular prayer, but maybe I already have one. On the one hand, I think about God all the time. On the other, I check Facebook a lot.

Medieval Christians had books of Hours. Modern Westerners have smartphones. They are surprisingly similar in function.

Books of Hours were devices for keeping track of time--they had calendars--and for communicating with one’s friends, particularly those who were dead (a.k.a. the saints). Smartphones have calendars, too. And lists of friends. And you can take selfies (a.k.a. donor portraits) and buy special covers for them, just like with books of Hours.

If you texted God, would God write back?

Professor Peterson talks about the importance of frames and the way they enable us to see. Practice is a kind of frame, as is devotion. You frame your life through your practices. Give shape to your days.

It matters what you practice even more than what you preach.

Have I filled my life with the practices that matter most? What do I do every day? Spend time with my dog. Check my email and Facebook.

I try to do my morning exercises every weekday and to play fiddle every evening except the day I go to fencing practice. I go to church every Sunday. I write on my blog as often as I can, but not as regularly as I would like. I read constantly, but not always from the top of my list.

Somehow I am always too busy to pray.

Simon Weil has a wonderful defense of the importance of academic studies for Christians. The time that you spend learning to pay attention to something other than yourself--geometry, say, or grammar--is training for paying attention to God.

I am great at paying attention. Just not to God.

I wish God would write back. I wish that I could find somebody to talk to other than God who could help me take my studies about God to the next level. I am tired of being the smartest person in the room. (How’s that for honesty?) There is so much I do not know.
Guidelines for general improvement: Now that you've thought about how you might have improved things even more for yourself or others in that particular situation, please think about this virtue in more general terms. How could you work on capitalizing on this positive trait in general, so that you or others that you care about benefit as much as possible?
Somebody once said (okay, it was Professor Peterson): “Humility means to be deeply aware of your own ignorance.” Constantly. It is only having a schedule that keeps the panic at bay.

I have a fantasy that if only I could discover the perfect schedule, everything would snap into place. What Professor Peterson describes as the experience of meaning. Perfectly balanced on the edge between chaos and order. I would know everything, be able to see God.

It is the promise of the monastic life: become like angels singing the psalms before the throne of the Lamb. Arm yourself with the strong, bright weapons of obedience so as to do battle under the Lord Christ, our true King. Become the hero. Rescue the virgin and bring back the gold.

I know exactly what Professor Peterson means when he talks about burning off the dead wood. It has been the ideal of ascetics since St. Anthony, to become so pure, so focused as to transcend the limitations of the flesh, become pure Word. Logos. A living Bible. A constant prayer.

St. Anthony went it alone. St. Benedict thought that was too hard a discipline for beginners, thus the schedule that he gave his monks including “nothing harsh or burdensome.” But schedule itself becomes burdensome if it is not practiced out of love.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Start with loving yourself, that is what Professor Peterson says. Start with considering yourself someone worthy of love. Someone worth caring for. Not someone to punish by counting your failures. Someone valuable for whom you want the best.

I know why I keep checking my email and Facebook feed. I want to know whether anyone cares about me. Even in little doses. When it seems someone listens.

What a shock it would be to find God--or His Mother--listening back.

--From Jordan Peterson’s Self-Authoring: Virtues program.

Images: Mary of Burgundy’s tomb effigy, Church of Our Lady, Bruges (my photo). Mary of Burgundy’s book of Hours, Vienna, ¨Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 1857, fols. 14v-15r. 

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