Obedience was always the vow I resisted most when I was discerning the possibility of life as a Roman Catholic nun. The idea that I would ultimately have to submit to an authority outside of myself worried me. To use an example that actually came up in my discernment, if my heart's desire was to be a liturgist and my community/superior told me I had to do something other than prepare liturgy, what would I do? How would I be happy?
Obedience, as I understood it, was a stance of submission to the will (and whims) of the other. When I read about Joseph and his many brothers, and the trials Joseph endured while he waited for God to come around, I'm reminded of this stance of submission and I cringe. The psalmist's question, "How long?", is one that could be answered with "Forever." If one found oneself in the wrong community, a life of obedience could be one of misery.
What I discovered as I was discerning the possibility of becoming a nun was that I was being obedient to God--I was listening hard, and I was hearing God's voice through my worries. To be obedient to God is to pay attention to one's life. What is it in my life that brings deep, quenching joy? What brings me nerve-wracking restlessness? Paying attention to my life in all its particulars is a vital way in which I listen to God's call for my life.
In my novitiate as a Benedictine Canon, I dig through the hardened soil in my heart so I can make room for what God wishes to plant in me. In order to turn that hardened soil, I have to embody a stance not of blind submission, but profound openness--openness to be seen by myself, God, and others in all my facets, just as I am. Masks keep me from perceiving what God wishes for my life and keep the seeds already planted in me from budding; they keep my unique, God-given brilliance from shining in God's marvelous light.
To be obedient, in my case, is to notice what life as a Benedictine Canon life is like for me. If I were worried or doubtful or unhappy, obedience would mean paying attention to that worry, doubt, and unhappiness and being willing to seek their source. Being obedient as a Benedictine Canon means being willing to share my joys and fears with my Benedictine siblings, especially my superior. To take counsel with another is an act of utter trust, and it is a way of allowing God to speak through others what I may not yet be able to hear from God through myself.
What will I hear as I continue to listen to God in the presence of sacred others? What will spring forth from my heart as I loosen the soil that has been made tough and hard?