Listen Dear Heart

Listening BenedictNew members in my community gathered over St. Patrick’s day weekend for a workshop. The weekend was all about the vow of obedience.  I’m sure you can already hear the sounds of moans and groans in your head.

In the weeks leading up to this class I think I must have heard every sarcastic wisecrack about this vow.  “Yeah, you need that!” “Oh, good luck.”  This vow, more than the other three professed in my community, always seems to el icit the most eye rolls.  On the surface, it also seems the most simple and straight forward.  Obedience is just saying, ‘yes’. Right?

In a nut shell the vow of obedience could be summed up as simply as being able to say yes to both God and to the community.  Most of the times people bring this vow up in the context of responding to the call to serve the community as elected leaders.  However, this weekend with my peers was spent exploring another dimension.

Obedience is more than being prepared to say ‘yes.’ This vow is the practice of listening with the ear of your heart to the heart of God. That is a scary statement right there. What will our God, who is Mystery, ask us to enter into today, or next year. The truth is we never really know, yet we make this vow at one particular moment in our lives and promise to God, and to our sisters that we will try to listen for that still small whisper of God’s regardless of what wild and daring things God may ask.

Saying yes in the spirit of obedience is not the hardest part of this vow for me. Listening is where I stumble. Listening to my sisters isn’t so hard, they are physically present as individuals, friends, and leaders who keep me anchored in love. Listening to God is a little harder, but there are many prayer practices which can be helpful- not least of which is having a relationship with a spiritual director. Listening to my self, and knowing my own heart, is one of the areas I struggle with most. If I do not pause to listen and know my own heart then I cannot live one crucial aspect of the vow of obedience: speaking my own inner truth.

Inner truth is not one crystalline concept, rather it is an individual’s most authentic prayerful response to the moment. This is why the vow of obedience cannot be limited to saying ‘yes’ only. “No one has a monopoly on listening to God” and we all have a grave responsibility to show up and listen contemplatively especially when we are impelled to say ‘no’. Remember, prophets sometimes disturb the peace by saying ‘no’.

Disturbance can be a healthy and holy initiative stirred up by an obedient ‘no’. If life is always smooth sailing then there is no initiative for growth, and little need to depend on God. Yet, if we courageously step into a disturbance and listen with our hearts we can move through discomfort to new opportunities and missions. So, at times saying ‘no’ might be the most obedient response.