Obedience comes from the Latin root word oboedire, which means “to listen.” In Word Made Flesh we commit to obedience; a listening for the voice of God. Obedience naturally follows Intimacy in the ladder of our Lifestyle Celebrations for it is because we know the sound of God’s voice that we are able to discern how it is calling us.
One way that we learn to know the voice of God is by hearing it in others. “But you know [the Spirit], for [the Spirit] lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14: 17, NIV). For the Benedictines, obedience is taken very seriously as one of their Rules of life. St. Benedict intended this vow of obedience to God to take practical form as obedience to the other members of the religious order. This understanding of obedience is not conformity or blind obedience, but an obedience that can see and respond to the grace God gives to the people with whom we are called into community. I love how Sister Joan Chittister talks about obedience:
“How is it that a Rule that purports to deal with the spiritual life can possibly put so much stock in the human dimensions of community? Obedience to God is imperative, yes, but so much emphasis on obedience… to leaders whose mundane lives are as limited as our own, almost seems to make a mockery of the very concept. If this is a life centered in the call of God, then why so much attention to the human?
The answer, of course, is that the human is the only place we can really be sure that God is. It is so easy to love the God we do not see but it is so much more sanctifying to serve the God we learn to see in others… We empty ourselves out so that the presence of God can come in, tangible and present and divinely human.”1
Being able to obey the divine in the humans in our community is a gift that flows from having the freedom to see people as they truly are. But we get in the way of our own ability to listen to each other by the filters through which we see reality. Paul says “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us… Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them… Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” (Rom 12: 2 -10, selections NLT)
Honest self-reflection requires a deep look at our own motivations within community life, the same motivations which hinder our ability to see and honor the divine imprint in our leaders and fellow community members. Our perception of reality is filtered through the home movie of our experiences, both good and bad, and our hidden motivations and wounds. Fr. Thomas Keating puts it well when he says “The primary spiritual practice is fidelity to one’s commitments in daily life. The same old routines, failures, difficulties and temptations keep recurring endlessly and seem to take us nowhere.”2 One way to understand the script of these home movies is to understand them as part of the false self that exists because of humanity’s fall from holiness in the garden.
Our true self; the soul that God created to seek and know God, is encased in the shell of our false self, a personality structure which we created to feel safe early in our childhood in response to our environment (nurture) and predispositions (nature). This structure keeps us in a false way of seeing, preventing us from honestly evaluating ourselves or from hearing the voice of God calling to us in our daily lives. As we grow in our spiritual lives the Spirit is able to dismantle this false self. Growing into the Christians that God made us to be involves putting aside the old self (Eph. 4:22 -24) and embracing new ways of thinking and seeing reality, to be open to what God is calling us to in each situation.
In our Omaha community we’ve found that some spiritual disciplines which help make space to allow the Spirit to work to take apart our false self structure are centering prayer, the Ignatian prayer of examen, and lectio divina. Like many other religious communities, we’ve also found the Enneagram to be an incredibly helpful tool for the kind of honest self-evaluation that Paul calls us to. The Enneagram is a psychological and spiritual tool based on people’s motivation and charts personality types into nine primary types in a geometric shape that describes how each of these types relate to each other.
Learning about your Enneagram type is another way of understanding your false self structure. Since the Enneagram is based on motivation it goes far beyond other personality tests with which one can determine their type quickly based on a simple test. Working with the Enneagram requires self-honesty and humility, for as you learn more about where your personality fits into the overall Enneagram structure, the thorn in the flesh that Paul talks about starts to come more into perspective. The Enneagram also has provided us with lots of graceful and compassionate language as we enter into the process of not just honest self-evaluation but learning to truly know and love each other.
To obey, to listen to God in each other, is to seek to discern the divine imprint beyond our false selves. When I feel discouraged I remember that “they shall know us by our love.” and again I can start anew to find God in those around me and obey them.
1 Joan Chittister, OSB, The Rule of Benedict (New York: Crossroad Publications, 2010).
2 Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian Contemplation (New York: Continuum International Publishing, 2006), p.130
Liz and her husband Calvin love living and serving in Omaha. She recently started a blog about her journey towards becoming an Enneagram teacher: http://ninefaces.wordpress.com