Obedience: For many years, the word was a lightning rod to me. The concept connoted all that I disliked about being female: Powerless, submissive, conformance, passivity and the like. But then I became a Christian Catholic and a few years later, an Oblate of St. Benedict. And that word, like so many others in the vocabulary of faith became something I embraced; at times admittedly with gritted teeth.
We lay Oblates read through the brief Rule of Benedict three times each year. Benedict calls his rule one fit for 'ordinary people.' Perhaps what is most surprising to those new to the rule is what it does not include. Writing during the end of the Roman Empire, Benedict's rule is striking for its absence of physical mortifications which were so prevalent among monastics of the time. In fact, many commentators, emphasize the gentleness with which Benedict addresses the physical needs of his monks, sleep, hygiene. At a time when the body was considered merely a dead weight which imprisons the soul, Benedict's attention to it and the other material of daily life like pots and pans stop us in our tracks. These mundane things and activities are holy...or can be?
But it is his Prologue which I write about today. The five hundred or so word preface to Benedict's seventy-three chapters or rules is among the most beautifully written letters to she who seeks God ever written. The prose is lyrical, the words animated and seem to saturate the heart from the very first word: Listen.
Perhaps I had been told that the Latin root of obey meant 'give ear to' but like so many words, the meaning of obey became corrupted. Only after years of 'doing it my way' was I able to open myself to hear the beauty and more, the wisdom behind Benedict and all those who have sought the truth.
L I S T E N carefully, my child,
to your master's precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father's advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
As with so many works which point us to wisdom and therefore, Christ, certain phrases of very familiar passages acquire muscle and seem to shout upon rereading. The power of Benedict's words in this first paragraph does just that despite the numerous times we read these poetic words:
To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,
whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will
to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,
and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.
One cannot help but visualize a loving father leaning down to comfort, console and love his small child as the father prepares to instruct the child in the ways of wisdom.