St Benedict expected unhesitating obedience from his monks:
‘The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all.’ (Rule of St Benedict, Ch 5, On Obedience)
For St Benedict cherishing Christ is key to everything that happens in the monastery. Reading this challenging line from the Rule, you might imagine blind obedience and a community of monks who silently follow orders. This is anything but the case in ordinary monastic living. Obedience is a process which unfolds the longer you live the life. In formation your training begins on the simplest of levels. You are given a timetable which is unlikely to be the same as any of your fellow novices. The first learning is, as my novice mistress said: ‘turning up in the right place, at the right time, with the appropriate expression on your face.’ There is something about the routine of following a timetable that begins to carve out in your heart a space for unhesitating obedience. Of course there will be things that you really don’t want to do. The monastic way is to turn up and do them anyway.
It’s easy to identify with both sons in this parable. I don’t have to look far for things I said I would do and then found a reason not to. Likewise there are many times when I grumpily built a case for not doing something and then relented. Each son has something to teach me. From time to time I can notice a shift in myself when something challenging is asked of me. Just occasionally grace floods in and I don’t even start the inner dialogue of whether I want to do it or not. This grace is due in no small part to the example of my sisters in community who day in and day out choose to do ‘the next right thing’.
Knowing and following God’s will can be made easier when we consciously look to others for example. We make our way together into the Kingdom of God.
What shape will your obedience take this week?