September 12, 2015 | Monastic Musings

Reflections from some of the nuns

Perhaps obedience is not a word that sits easily with us today yet it is one of the three vows taken by the Benedictine monk. The word obedience is first mentioned at the beginning of the prologue to the Rule of St Benedict and is related to listening with the ear of the heart.

Listen carefully, my child, to the Masters instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a parent who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice… This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and bright weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.

Listening and inclining the ear of the heart is at the centre of Benedict’s rule. What has been lost by disobedience is possible to regain by obedience. Listening with the ear of the heart does not mean listening with the emotions. To the ancients, the heart was the centre of the being – the deep place where one was able to focus with all of the being. It embraced heart and mind and body. This deep place of listening was also recognised as the dwelling place of God within. As St Gertrud the Great knew ‘when I return into my heart, I find you there!’

The word listening is at the root of the word obedience.  The Rule of St Benedict calls us to listen with the ear of the heart, from the center of our being. It is from this deep place of listening that obedience – the right action in response to what has been heard rises up. Obedience in this sense is a movement to action that rises from a deep, Godly and centered place within. It has little or nothing to do with doing as we are told!

In other words, when we listen with the ear of our heart from that contemplative space then the action that arises spontaneously is the obedience to what has been heard in that contemplative sacred space.

Obedience is also the way through which we return to God and through which own will is aligned or becomes one with the will of God. It is by listening from that deep contemplative place that we come to know the will of God for us.  Action that arises from that place carries a smooth flowing of energy imbued with harmony – and which is recognised as right action.

God’s will for us is always that which will bring us to the fullness of life. Jesus said, ‘I have come so that you may have life, and have it to the full’.  Jesus pointed the way and said to ‘follow’! He taught us to pray by going into our room (heart) and closing the door, praying to the Father there. He said ‘May they be one, as you and I are one’ and ‘Thy will not mine be done’…

Jesus always kept things simple. Coming out of those nights of prayer he would then go forth… simply doing the next right thing, meeting each moment and each person and each situation precisely as it presented itself.  Jesus lived out of the right action that came from his deep connection and relationship with God. The good news is that we are called to do the same.  Do not cheapen the concept of obedience with anything less.

Listen DrawingThe father and I are one
Trust the space
This place
from which obedience springs
in loving answer
to the Word heard.




Sr Magdalen Mather osb