Obedience is one of the three traditional monastic vows: poverty, chastity and obedience. The founders of my home community repeatedly emphasized the importance of obedience in the early years of my formation. As I rewrite and edit this blog, I am reminded of the many frescoes seen on my recent St. Benedict pilgrimage, recounting and dramatizing obedience. Two young monks, Marcus and Placidus, had grown up in the monastery under St. Benedict. One was in the water, drowning. The other came instantly at St. Benedict’s call and fled just as instantaneously on the errand to save his brother in the water. Never realizing it, he walked on the water, fished out his brother and brought him back to dry land — only then realizing he had in fact walked on water. I doubt that my simple story of obedience will end up on fresco walls, and I did not walk on water; however, it is obedience in the mundane.
I was on my way to Italy a week ago for the retreat on St. Benedict. My flight left Brussels at 7 am requiring a 2:50 am bus departure from Brugge. Normally, this is an easy walk through the train station to the rear to pick up the bus, but at 2:50 in the morning the station is sensibly closed, necessitating a walk around the station through a tunnel and under the tracks. This might be all right also but there are extensive roadworks underway, turning a 10-minute walk into 25 minutes. What does this have to do with obedience, you wonder? I smartly did a trial run and discovered I could walk a lighted path through the park to the back of the station. Wonderful! So off I trekked at 2 am with my flashlight, through the monastery garden and out the door, dragging my suitcase…only to find my path through the park barred with a large sign, as only the Belgians can do, directing bikers and walkers clearly in another direction. Now I could easily have gone around the bar and through the park. After all it was 2am! No, I said, be obedient. It turns out in the few days between my trial run and my night trip to the bus, the construction crew had completely torn up where I had walked. No more sidewalk, no more path. Had I not been obedient and followed the signs I frankly do not know if I would have made my bus, but there certainly would have been one very nervous and frantic nun. Humility and obedience are wonderful virtues to cultivate, but hard won and paid for by this nun.