We are in the midst of re-reading chapter 5 of the Rule of St Benedict, On Obedience. I have lost count of the number of times I have commented on this chapter. Even more often, I have reflected on its meaning in the particular circumstances in which I find myself. I cannot claim any special insights, but there is one thing that strikes me again and again: the way in which Benedict conceives of obedience as operating in both the vertical and the horizontal dimension, as it were. We listen to our superior and we listen to one another in the hope of hearing what God wishes to say to us. Sometimes, especially when I survey some of the more aggressive comments made on Social Media and the like, I wonder whether that concept of obedience is now completely alien to most people. We proclaim our own ‘truth’. We may — grudgingly or otherwise — acknowledge the right of others to proclaim their ‘truth’; but we see no reason to dialogue. The problem, as I see it, is that this makes truth (without quotes) subjective.
I am always slightly amused, slightly irritated by those who wish to set others right by selective quotation from scripture or Church documents of one kind or another. That is easy but rarely effective because it ignores a basic human trait: we have to be persuaded of the truth, and we cannot leave out any stages of the argument. Monastic chapters can be, should be, tremendous occasions of grace as we speak the truth in love, less anxious to state our own view than we are to hear that of the other. That is why some of our chapters here in the monastery are notable for the very little speaking that is done. It is more important to us to ‘hear what the Spirit says to the Churches’ and that can only be done if we make a deliberate effort not to let our own clamour get in the way.
Today each of us will probably have an opportunity to express our opinion of this or that. Perhaps a moment or two’s silence, making a space for the Holy Spirit, so to say, would make our opinion much more worth hearing, much more an expression of God. And wouldn’t that be a good thing?