What does "obedience" really mean?

Before Morning Prayers, or Lauds, we read a chapter from the Rule of Benedict and it often sets the tone I carry throughout the morning. Yesterday’s reading has lingered longer. It was about obedience.

“…obedience to the Prioress and to one another’ is one of my favorite excerpts from the Rule. I have many reasons for cherishing this line, but first understand that obedience is NOT blind assent. It comes from the Latin root “obidere,” meaning to listen.

Obedience calls us to listen to our Prioress, our Sisters and ourselves – but listening is no easy matter. Listening requires a sincere heart and mind. Obedience also requires respect for the other. More deeply, obedience requires each of us to understand how our lives affect those around us. It moves us beyond listening and respect to an other-centered focus. It is not about what we want but what others need from us.

In community, obedience is about meshing our own concerns with those of the Prioress, the Sisters and the community as a whole.  Obedience is about  learning my own wisdom, nurtured through prayer and study, and listening to the wisdom around me to discover God’s Will. Sometimes being obedient is about speaking our own Wisdom! God’s Will is not always immediately clear and so we must discuss and share our piece. This is especially true in Benedictine communities like ours, where we all together make decisions that affect the whole. However, even in our individual decisions, it is about prayer and listening to Wisdom from the Prioress and our Sisters.

This obedience is the foundation of community life. It is how we live together and why we entered this particular community. For obedience means we live not for ourselves but for and with our Sisters.  It is how we communicate each day and make each decision. We do not live isolated lives, but rather, communal lives, obedient to each other.  We consider and respect others, we listen to their voices, we look inside and find our voice, we share our voices, we reflect on how our voice impacts others and we decide together what is best for all.

Of course, it’s not always easy to put aside me for we, which most people find out in marriage, or work, or other commitments. Obedience makes it possible to achieve an astonishingly deep we, leaving the limited me behind.

Silence

“Silence is that place just before the voice of God.  It is the void in which God and I meet in the center of my soul.” (Illuminated life:  Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light, Joan Chittister, OSB)

Silence is critical to discernment, and during all times that we hope to hear God speak. For my part, I have to work to quiet the noise, bury the distractions, open my heart and stretch my listening to really hear.

The God I experience is the Grace of my life.

Often silence is seen as eerie or uncomfortable or produces impatience.  For many of us it is our ‘shadow’ side, as we are not raised to welcome silence – nor does the world embrace silence.  I – and maybe you too – have had to nourish a hunger for silence.  Once found, however, it is precious.

Silence is partly a matter of appreciating life’s clamor while being able to set it aside for a greater sound.  I have always found inspiration in music, books and nature.  However, inspiration comes through quiet, silence and a deafening depth where God speaks most clearly.

Whatever path you are on – most especially if you are grappling with a religious vocation – requires enough quiet and silence to let God break through your noise, distractions and self-centeredness.  God is profoundly with us in all aspects of life, yet silence allows that unique communication with God that leads us to find some clarity of God’s love and Grace.  That quiet allows our God to surface and rise inside.

In your discernment, allow for quiet and silence and see where it leads you. Treasure the quiet, silent times when the voice of God comes through your heart. It might take time to get used to it, so be patient.  God is working through you to emerge stronger and more present in your life.

Stay Connected!!

I am still having computer glitches, so I have another laptop with me in Dubuque, Iowa for a meeting. I have had trouble staying connected, however, and being unconnected is not a pretty “site”! It is essential to stay connected – yes, via the web, but more important, by any means.

Discernment is about recognizing connections and maintaining relationships to discover more about your hopes and dreams.  You must stay connected to God through prayer, of course, but it’s also important to stay connected with a particular community, vocation director or community member.  Nancy makes that point quite well in her reply a couple of days ago.

Nancy had connected with several communities and that made the difference in her discernment.  She and I kept up conversation, sharing and arranging visits – all helpful in her discernment.  While God leads us in the right direction, we need to take hold of the opportunity God lays before us. Nancy is just one example of connectedness as a vital and essential tool in discernment.

Staying connected with women who are in discernment is vital to me.  I hope I can be a conduit for God’s presence in your discernment.

Today – reflect on your connectedness. How is it with God these days?  What is God saying through your connection? How is it with your discernment and  who might you need to connect with? Go for it … and stay connected!!

Prayerful Rest of "Computer Minds"

This week was most frustrating with my laptop.  Basically, the hard drive is full and can’t handle any more information.  When that happens it leads to a very lethargic computer that doesn’t process many commands, including Save, Print, etc.  In the midst of my very busy week it  was not helpful!

This week I received an email from a woman who has been on our inquirer list for over a year.  She receives our monthly STEPS email.  After our August email she decided it was time to contact me.  She has been thinking about religious life and was full of information and decided it was time to take a further step.

Isn’t it true that we can only retain so much information before our minds begin to get unfocused, overwhelmed and maybe even shut down?  When that happens to me it means I must sit down and compile all my information into a to do list or make notes.  Okay, it often results in a long nap too! I simply have to organize the information to make it manageable and address the essentials.  Take a deep breath and reassure myself I can only do so much in a day.

The point being we get to a place where we are over-saturated and need to clear out some files, pursue some ‘to do’ item or rest and let God bring to the foreground what our next step is.

Discernment is no different.  An important aspect is to gather information and experiences about the choices you are considering.  There is a point when we get enough, though; something we just seem to know at the time.  Then it is time to let God work in us through prayer and attention to God.  There is a time to organize our information, narrow some choices and maybe write a ‘pro and con’ list.  Often, a decision to explore a particular community surfaces.

Basically, we all have computer minds.  Even the smartest laptop needs to rest and reset. Let prayerful rest guide our decisions, and let God filter through our experiences.  Let’s Save, Delete, and Print under God’s guidance.

God's Promise

Thursday’s Scripture at Eucharist comes straight from the Prophet Ezechiel. It was my favorite passage from him.

Ezechiel writes about new life using the image of dead bones rising with new flesh, new energy and new purpose. He is speaking to the Israelites who have been beaten down into Exile. Ezechiel speaks for the Lord and proclaims a new life is coming to God’s People.

It is all about God’s Promise as proclaimed through Ezechiel: “I will give you a new heart, a new spirit.”

Isn’t it a great Promise to us? God brings new life, new skin on old bones, new energy and a new Spirit. It takes looking with eyes of faith to see the positive in life and the upside of the challenges life brings. That is the crux of faith – to believe in a new Spirit and a new Life – even when the challenges may be overwhelming.

Discernment is about seeing with God how your life is unfolding. When reflecting, praying and pondering on a new energy – like joining a religious community – The Promise is with you.

Discernment is about believing in The Promise clearly presented by Ezechiel. Following God’s Path will “grant you a new spirit, a new life.” The Promise comes around repeatedly in life when we are centered on God and on following God’s lead.

Talk about energy – the Olympics are incredible in energy. What we can do with our bodies, with discipline, with such an intense focus on a goal – that is a sample of God’s creative power exploding.

How focused are you on The Promise?

Prayer of Saints Benedict and Scholastica

We also pray the following prayer of Saints Benedict and Scholastica at Vespers:

Raise up, O Lord, in your church, the Spirit which prompted our holy founders, Benedict and Scholastica; that we, being filled with the same Holy Spirit, may strive to love what they loved and to practice what they taught. Grant us, we beseech you, O Lord, perseverance in obeying your will so that, in our days, the faithful dedicated to your service may increase both in holiness and in number. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

To all the readers of this blog: Please let me know if you have any suggestions for other prayers here. As for our daily Psalms, you can find a chart for every day of the week on our webside and pray them with us!