Thursday 26 March 2009

Obedience: being real and responsive

A community of transformation like Magdalene, or any recovery programme stands or falls on the Benedictine virtue of obedience. People can try out all kinds of ideals and programmes, goodwill gestures and apologies, but the battle is lost or one in what actually happens, and underlying trends of habitual response to reality and other people tell the real story for good or ill. Clichés about talking talk and walking walk come to mind. Underlying any serious community of grace has to be holy pragmatism.

The roots of the idea of obedience are, as is often pointed out, not conformity but radical listening. In a sense obedience takes in the whole rule of Benedict, whose first word is “Audite...” and last “ pervenies.” (“Listen...” “...and you will make it.”). Habits of obedience are not about what you do in itself, but what you do as an expression of attitude to everybody else. Disobedience is not naughtiness, but failure of community.

It’s not, in fact, authoritarianism, but the antidote to authoritarianism, to be part of a community to which we hold ourselves mutualy accountable. This is the mutual submission spoken of in the Scriptures.

This all takes me back to the 17th century nursery rhyme we all had to learn at school forty years ago:
A man of words and not of deeds
Is like a garden full of weeds
And when the weeds begin to grow
It's like a garden full of snow
And when the snow begins to fall
It's like a bird upon the wall
And when the bird away does fly
It's like an eagle in the sky
And when the sky begins to roar
It's like a lion at the door
And when the door begins to crack
It's like a stick across your back
And when your back begins to smart
It's like a penknife in your heart
And when your heart begins to bleed
You're dead, and dead, and dead indeed.

This is the third of three posts about the core Benedictine virtues of Conversion, Stability and Obedience, reflected in the Magdalene Community of Nashville, TN.

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