I don’t really listen to anyone. Just the word “obedience” makes me think of dogs. And Nazis. My favorite dogs are the ones who barely need masters. The ones who sort of check in with humans occasionally, like, hey, is this all right? Does this work for you? You just nod at a dog like that.
Ever since I was a kid, I thought obedience was for dumb people. If you were smart enough to figure out the right thing to do, you wouldn’t need to obey anyone.
There were eventually times when I couldn’t trust myself because I knew I wasn’t smart. All I felt like doing was drugging myself out of consciousness, or lashing myself like an albino in a stupid adventure movie set in Rome. And last year, when I had panic attacks, I couldn’t trust myself, either. I had just enough reason left to know I was unreasonable. I guess I knew I was dumb. People told me, “Don’t call him,” and “Get in the car,” and “Eat this,” and I obeyed. It was pretty much my first experience with obedience. It went well.
I’m taking a class on Benedictine spirituality, and we spent some time looking at the concept of obedience. I thought obedience was doing things “because I said so.” The truth is, I’ve rarely trusted anyone enough to follow their direction just because they said so.
Obedience is about trust. When I’ve been out to the monastery, I trusted in the monastic routine, as I trust in the rituals and texts and traditions of Christianity. When I think of the trust monastics strive to have, I am awed. But I understand it. That is a place that seems to encourage trust. There are writers and artists I have obeyed. They wrote about how to be an artist, and I did that stuff, and then I was one.
This Lent, I am not obeying the Bible, or God—although people often talk about obeying God or the Bible, I don’t think of either of them as being particularly didactic in nature. God is presence, and the Bible is food for thought, and spirit.
Instead, I’m obeying my own better nature. I know it is worthwhile to meditate and to read along with my friends, studying the same texts and praying the same prayers. I know yoga and meditation are good for me. I know that limiting my facebook time keeps my brain from hopping around like a tiny bird. I know putting my clothes away is good for me. I know washing dishes is good. Once you get started, it feels good all the way through.
Dogs are domesticated animals, made for companionship and civilization. They need some authority, and so do I. Sit. Sit. Sit, and stay.