Envision Benedictine Listening (Obedience) through Visio Divina (Divine Seeing)

This is the sixth of 6 Visio Divina Meditations, as an alternative to New Years Resolutions.

Professed Benedictine monastics formally promise to uphold a 3-fold commitment to listening (obedience), stability, and fidelity (conversatio morum) while living within their communities. Oblates (lay associates) strive to apply these principles while living “in the world” outside the monastery, believing all can benefit from incorporating the timeless wisdom of The Rule of Benedict into their lives.

The Benedictine Promise of Listening (Obedience)

“Obedience” Fiber Art by Pat Picket

Obedience for a Benedictine monastic is first and foremost the promise to listen for the divine voice guiding our lives, and then to respond in a way that takes us into a deeper relationship with God. For most of us in the 21st century, the word “obedience” is fraught with fear and reprehension due to the all-too-clear consequences of “blind” obedience to any kind of immoral, oppressive, cruel authority. Benedictine obedience is not blind; it is informed by a deep listening to truth and the way of love. Obedience literally means “listening” — paying attention and being accountable.
About this piece, the artist writes: Whew! This is the tough one and I’m not near there at all. That’s why there’s a veil over the whole thing. Obedience is golden. Obedience is when maybe I can let go of my ego in the right way and really trust God enough. Gold is blinding, or it can be. Maybe someday it will feel just right. I have a strong will and sometimes I will do what I want to do even if I know it’s probably going to get me in deep water. Obedience is what I can’t seem to master and I’m out here by myself even though I know there’s a community in Minnesota that has my back. Still, as an Oblate, I haven’t figured out just who is my superior? No one really tells me what to do. I don’t have a yearly obedience. I mostly do what I’m supposed to do. Maybe, but I’m still blinded by YELLOW and it might even be providential, or serendipity that YELL is in the word yellow cause I do a lot of yelling at God. 

How to Practice Visio Divina

Close your eyes and clear your mind.

Open your eyes and “read” the whole image. Close your eyes and rest.

Meditate on the image, let your eyes be drawn to one part of the image. Name this part.

Close your eyes and see that part of the image in your mind.

Open your eyes and look at that part of the image; notice your response — a word, another image, an emotion.

Close your eyes and rest.

Open your eyes and look at the whole image. What is speaking to you? How will you respond to this?

Fiber Art Wall Hangings by Pat Picket are located at Saint Benedict’s Monastery. Photos by Tracy Rittmueller with permission to publish on this blog.

Envision a self-story in which you value stability

Using Timothy Wilson’s story-editing technique from his book Redirect.

You might journal about a situation when doing something someone else’s way instead of your own way poses a challenge. Are you able to give in? Joyfully, enthusiastically, willingly let someone else go first in line, in traffic, in interrupting what you intended to do? Listening to others with the intent to give up our right to have the final say–this is truly hard. And yet, as Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert writes, Benedictine listening “obedience teaches us that we don’t have to have the final say on most things–in fact, on nothing except that which is immoral, and most of us will not have to deal with a person like Hitler in our lives.” Why and when is the sacrifice of giving in to the other for the sake of seeking the will of God over your own will hard for you?

See yourself as a person who pays attention to others, who is willing to let go of your ideas and plans in order to do the will of God. Consider, and perhaps journal, about why God’s way is better than your own way. How does God use the people in your life to help you let go of your stubbornness and pride? Think and/or write about yourself as a person who is, or could be, someone who doesn’t need to have your own way.

Ask God to help you grow in listening obedience.

Now relax and let your obedience to the will of God grow organically over time, by the opportunities and graces given to you, trusting that obedience will make you a more peaceful person and spread peace in the lives of those around you. May your increasing obedience bring more peace to our world.


The monks at St. John’s Abbey and Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert helped inform my thinking about Benedictine listening obedience.