Another hard post to write, which is why it’s taken an extra couple of days to get to it. Trying to sort out why the word obedience has a negative connotation as well as a positive one.
The people I’ve spoken to have given me very similar responses when I ask, “What do you think of when you consider the word ‘obedience’?” Rebellion from unfair or unjust ideas, especially those of us in the Gender and Sexually Diverse community, crashes up against the idea of obedience like a wave. It can be mistaken for oppression very easily, and it can also be blind; many are obedient to a way of life they have never questioned, who’s values they have never tested, and who’s benefits either come at high costs to health or family or both.
When I think of obedience, what comes to mind is the will. That part of ourselves that guides how we make directions and choices, how it weighs between what we want, what we need, and what we don’t want. Many of us, including myself, have asked how obedience plays a part in my life in terms of taking direction or following instruction. But there’s a deeper, more significant aspect to obedience that I think is important to examine.
Obedience, especially from the point of view of someone in religious life, is a vow one takes that links their life and choices to the immediate will of God, even and especially when that will isn’t clearly understood, or the direction may seem frightening or challenging. It’s described in fluffy speak in phrases like “When God closes a door, They open a window.” And when you hear these sayings, you don’t necessarily consider what that fully means.
As a Franciscan, I’ve had to make some very challenging choices, choices which at one end seem to take me away from what has been safe. And I don’t feel safe 100% of the time having made those choices. Many times, people in my life rail up against me for making those choices because they don’t understand, or those choices I make somehow directly challenge their own ideals and values. Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience were the three vows I took two years ago in Toronto. To a great extent, these three vows run contrary to what we in Western society hold as worthy, especially as worth in men who are supposed to be providers, protectors, and rescuers.
As a person, a human being, I often resist what the manifestation of obedience looks like because it hurts, it’s painful, it forces me to face fears and confront anxieties that I’d rather not deal with. I won’t lie! I’ve often run from facing those fears, only to have to come up against them again later and make the choice again to either face it head on, or run from it and pretend that it’s not real, or that it’s not effecting me.
I am almost fifty years old. I’ve spent a great deal of my life struggling to learn who I am. I can say with some certainty that the choices I’ve made in the last two years have been in obedience to the truth of who I am as a person, where I want to be as a person, and the kind of person that I want to continue evolving into. The virtue of Obedience in it’s purest sense is to know my truth, to live that truth, even in the face and challenge of those who see no value in that truth, or who’s own lives are challenged by the presence of that truth. It means listening for the quiet voice of God in every moment, in every situation, and hearing what God is saying–taking the time to truly discern what God is saying rather than making assumptions based upon needs and desires.