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Friday, April 27, 2012

Obedience and 'Good Orderly Direction'

When I first began my own spiritual journey, I believed in lots of things, except God.  I experimented with lots of theories, except the one that said there was an all-powerful Being.  I did lots of things, except pray.

I made up my own world as I went along, and was miserable most of the time.

When I began to ask what or who God is, an 'Old Timer' gave me this 'hint':

"God is Good Orderly Direction."

What he meant was, after some explanation, that God does not speak to us directly or act in a way that we can see.  He operates through others, particularly those who love Him, and that if I wanted to hear from God I needed to start taking advice from those who bore the fruits of a relationship with Him.

Sobriety begins with the realization that our own thoughts lie to us.  As Fr. Meletios says, "You are not your thoughts."  You are real, your thoughts are not.  You are not responsible for what comes into your head, but you are responsible for the thoughts you decide to entertain and act upon.

God is not in our thoughts.  When we are thinking 'about' God, we are thinking around Him.  There is a difference between dancing around the periphery and cross the line into the Heavenly Kingdom.  Knowing about God and knowing Him are two different concepts.

So, once you decide to stop thinking and start encountering, you will need guidance.  This is 'Good Orderly Direction.'  Someone who is 'on the inside' helps you find the door in the dark, so that you can also enter in and experience the Divine for yourself.  The trick is to take these directions without allowing the storm of your own thinking to once again distract you and blow you off-course.

The Church has the same concept without the catchy acronym... is is called Obedience.

Now, most people think of obedience like dog-training.  That's not really what it is.  Someone who is obedient is not a robot.  Rather, he is wrestling with his own distraction and looking for help in getting to that encounter with God.  Someone who seeks God will have to look for a spiritual person to be that guide.

This means that we obey those who have fruits of a spiritual life: 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; [Gal 5:22-23a] 

You don't follow people who look like this:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, ...Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. [Gal 5:19-21a, 25] 

Basically, if you run across someone who acts piously, but criticizes others, then you know not to fall for the act.  Spiritual abusers usually have 'tells' in their behavior that will give you an indication that this person is not worth following.

You can also recognize that some people have good things to say and should be heeded, but not in absolutely everything.  That sounds tricky, but there is an easy way to make this diagnosis:

When you receive advice, check it out with others who are also mature.  If you read the Desert Fathers, there are countless examples of monks who were under obedience to their own elders, but would still seek out counsel from saints to reinforce or correct their obedience. 

Of course, you will have to be honest enough not to try to 're-spin' the story so that you can get the next person to give you the answer you want.  I have seen this happen when a person will ask me to double-check someone's advice, but will throw in a few more details to make sure I don't 'err' like the last person did.  I usually try to send them back to the first adviser with these details.  Most of the time, it is a type of manipulation, though many people don't even know that they are manipulating their advisers.

We are so used to trying to get our own way that we routinely ignore advice and poo-poo obedience.  We think that advice is someone 'bossing us around' and obedience is slavery.  How far from the truth!  

If we want to find sobriety, we need to find Good Orderly Direction.

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