It is no surprise that the vow of obedience is perhaps the most controversial of the five vows. After all, no one likes to be told what to do. There is however a deeper, more real aspect of this vow that is rarely talked about, because for the most part it is unknown.
The typical understanding of the vow of obedience is within the context of religious orders. These are hierarchical systems – everyone from novitiate to the head of the order is expected to obey the directives given to them by their superiors. The more enlightened understanding is that one vows obedience to the God Self within. This version presupposes that contact has been made, that one has actually experienced the Self and is able to hear what it has to say. But people rankle at the thought of simply following orders, even (and perhaps especially) from God.
If you believe that God loves you completely and unconditionally, taking orders might not be that big a deal. In fact, being led in the paths of righteousness and green pastures actually sounds pretty good. One could do a lot worse. But the word obedience comes with baggage, in that it implies “power over.” And no one likes to have power lorded over them. What most of us seek is empowerment – the power to live our lives more fully and authentically, knowing that such a life also empowers others. Those who have this kind of devotion to Life Itself see life as a dance, not a march. Their relationship with God is a holy marriage filled with mutual love and devotion, not master and slave – not even King and subject. We know that this arrangement doesn’t work in a physical marriage; why should it work in our relationship to God? If something is true anywhere, it is true everywhere.
Following the Spirit is a positive affair, because the Spirit is positive. It is always initiating action. But in order for the Spirit to move, there has to be a vacuum – a need. We create that need through the action of prayer. Far from begging, real prayer is setting a pattern, a living pattern, that the Spirit can fill. Action begets action. If we want a job, we knock on doors – we ask. If we want to be an author, we write. If we want to be loved, we find it in ourselves to be lovable. No intelligent person expects to move forward in life by sitting around doing nothing.
Once our living prayer has been made, it is up to us to respond to the Spirit as it starts to move in and through the pattern we have set. Once we put our “cause” into motion, we then become the “effect” of our own cause. The movement of Spirit sweeps through us like a mighty wind, guiding our next move, inspiring our every thought, speaking the words we need to say in a kind of divine possession of the tongue. The Spirit ignites us with its white-hot flame, and the world responds by surrendering to us everything we need. And we discover very quickly that once our life starts to heat up, resistance on our part, especially the resistance of doing nothing, can be hell. Once you grab hold of the tiger’s tail, you don’t want to let go!
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” – The Gospel of Thomas
Obedience to the God Self within requires a stepping out on our part. We must first be in motion before we can receive guidance. And when guidance comes, it will be creative, full of surprises, and it will sometimes demand of us the seemingly impossible. But no one is asked to exceed their capacity, so our “yes” leads us in a journey of Self-discovery. Obedience to God, obedience to Self, inviting and then allowing God to express through us – this is the essence of the vow of obedience. Anything else is power over.