A Testament of Devotion: Holy Obedience, Part I

The Nature of Holy Obedience

Meister Eckhart wrote: “There are plenty to follow our Lord half-way, but not the other half.  They will give up possessions, friends, and honors, but it touches them too closely to disown themselves.”  It is just this astonishing life which is willing to follow Him the other half, sincerely to disown itself, this life which intends complete obedience, without any reservations, that I would propose to you in all humility, in all boldness, in all seriousness.  I mean this literally, utterly, completely, and I mean it for you and for me–commit your lives in unreserved obedience to Him.

If you don’t realize the revolutionary explosiveness of this proposal you don’t understand what I mean. [p.26]

In some, says William James, religion exists as a dull habit, in others as an acute fever.  Religion as a dull habit is not that for which Christ lived and died. [p. 27]

The life that intends to be wholly obedient, wholly submissive, wholly listening, is astonishing in its completeness.  Its joys are ravishing, its peace profound, its humility the deepest, its power world-shaking, its love enveloping, its simplicity that of a trusting child.  It is the life and power in which the prophets and apostles lived….And it is a life and power that can break forth in this tottering Western culture and return the Church to its rightful life as a fellowship of creative, heaven-led souls.  [p.28-29]

I’d like to see that last bit on a church bulletin: “Welcome to ABC Church, a fellowship of creative, heaven-led souls.”

There’s a lot on these pages that is worth chewing on for a while.  My initial thoughts:

  1. Kelly sees the primary barrier to complete obedience as an unwillingness to disown self.  This is something beyond giving up “possessions, friends, honors”–but those are the primary things that I think of when I’m grappling with dying to myself.  If I’ve already left my things, my people, and my pride for the cause of Christ, what is left for me to disown?  I think Kelly is right that I don’t understand what he means.  Does it have to do with leaving self-direction so I can become a “heaven-led soul”?
  2. I suspect that Kelly’s contrast between dull habits and acute fevers could be misinterpreted.  I don’t think he is in the modern happy-clappy praise camp.  Quaker spirituality tends to be quiet and contemplative.  He’s not really thinking of externals here, but is still dealing with interior matters.  The issue is: Am I following Jesus out of a sense of obligation, or because I have been so infected with the divine that I can’t be free from Christ any longer?  Based on early chapters, Kelly is all in favor of set routines, at least as a starting point.  But it is my grappling with the God-fever that compells me to these routines of prayer, not vice-versa.  Again, He initiates, I respond.
  3. Interesting that Kelly says that the wholly obedient, submissive, listening life is “astonishing in its completeness.”  We think that we’ve given something up, but we find instead that God provides those things that we truly need when we give up what we merely want.  The simple, humble life is also powerful (world-shaking!) and creative.  We need creativity among the saints, because God is creative and we join him in his work.  Didn’t Craddock say something about boring worship being a sin, because to be bored in our faith is to misrepresent God?
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