Obedience

In recent times obedience has become a bad word. It seems incompatible with good words like independence, individualism, and freedom. The emphasis is all on doing your own thing and doing it your own way. What you're supposed to obey is authority, and authority has come to be confused with "the authorities" - people in uniform or with Ph.D.s or earning ten times a year more than you do. Who wants to obey them?

Many parents have given up asking their children to obey them and just hope they won't burn the house down. In religious circles, obedience, like its partners poverty and chastity, tends to be associated largely with monasticism. If the mother superior or the abbot tells you to do something, you better do it. Otherwise you let your own conscience be your guide and take no guff from anybody. The phrase obeying your conscience is gradually being replaced by listening to your conscience.

It is generally supposed that to obey somebody is necessarily to do something for somebody else's sake. However, when Jesus asks people to obey above everything the law of love, it is above everything for their own sakes that he is asking them to obey it.

~originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words