"… Benedict's concept of obedience is rooted in the ancient notion of listening. The Latin root words upon which obedience is based mean hearing in a way that involves meeting/encounter. The foundation of true obedience is a deep attention in order to receive more fully that which is being spoken/given. The whole point of the Benedictine life is to train your heart to listen for the Word that matters, and when it is hard, to respond with all your being, so that life springs forth."~~Norvene Vest, Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict.
1. The very first sentence of the Rule of Benedict tells us how very important listening is. Benedict says (paraphrased by John McQuiston II), "Attend to these instructions. Listen with the heart [in the original rendering of the Rule, "the ear of the heart"] and the mind; they are provided in a spirit of goodwill. These words are addressed to anyone who is willing to renounce the delusion that the meaning of life can be learned; whoever is ready to take up the greater weapon of fidelity to a way of living that transcends understanding."
The Rule is a radical document that calls us to a much more profound life, one rooted in the present, and always with the needs and interests of others paramount to our own. We have been told many times in our individual pasts that we need to listen, or that we aren't listening. Think of and discuss a time when your failure to listen to someone and be attentive to their needs and interests resulted in the failure to be of help to them and to fulfill your Christian obligation to them.
2. In the film, Jonathan spent a considerable amount of time explaining what obedience means, and he also equated it with the ability to listen. In a monastic order in particular, but also in our ordinary lives, how does listening relate to obedience?
3. Consider this reflection and respond from your own perspective:
"It is very difficult for me to set aside my own concerns and tasks when my husband asked me for something, for example-- at all, much less at once. I remember a time when I was a teenager. My father asked me to do something and I stopped and asked him "Why?" He was outraged, and I shouted back, "Why are you paying all that money to send me to college, if you don't want me to ask why?" I felt entirely in the right.
Apart from normal teenage issues of asserting a separate identity from one's parents, it occurs to me that another issue here touches the core of obedience. The goal of a harmonious union of mind, heart, and spirit is utterly shattered by an inconsistence that each request/instruction be evaluated to determine if it is reasonable and appropriate. It is a form of insisting on separation that is poor training indeed for life in Christ. There must, at some point, be a simple willingness to do what the other asks out of love for the other-- simply because he or she asked. And painfully, that willingness must be expressed with a real live person, one whose frailties I see all too well.
4. If you are interested in forming a Benedictine Way Group to continue the study of the rule of Benedict, and the ways in which we can live the rule in our personal lives, along with our spiritual lives within our spiritual community, please let me know. I am very much interested in contacting people from other churches in Mount Sterling, and also perhaps other Episcopal churches that are fairly close to us geographically, such as Morehead, Winchester, or Flemingsburg. I have some materials from the Washington National Cathedral that I will be happy to share with you, and also some information from St. David's Parish in Washington DC. You may also find it helpful to access, if you have a computer, the website called Friends of Benedict. There you will find reading recommendations, other churches throughout the United States and elsewhere who have Benedictine Way Groups, and a way to contact Kurt Aschermann (who is mentoring me) for additional information you might need that I have not provided you. I thank you most sincerely for your participation in this adult Sunday school class, and I look forward to further discussions with you.