When my mind is feeling busy or overwhelmed, I sometimes pull angel cards for guidance and meditation. Angel cards are about the size of a quarter Post-It and each has a single word on it, like “gratitude,” or “openness,” or “abundance.” Before selecting one, I mix all the cards up in a jar, sit quietly, and ask the universe for guidance. Regardless of whether my selection is a result of divine intervention or utter randomness, the word itself provides me a framework for considering my problem.
Recently, I pulled the angel of “obedience,” and to be honest, at first it really bothered me. I have a negative association with the word obedience. To me, obedience means submission – a lack of control and a relinquishment of autonomy. Dogs are obedient to their masters. Children are obedient to their parents. Throughout history woman have been obedient to their husbands. I don’t want to be obedient. I want to chart my own course and make my own decisions.
I couldn’t figure out how to fit my situation into the context of obedience. I didn’t know who or what I was supposed to be obedient to. So, I Googled it – the word obedience – and I ended up finding a beautiful Presbyterian sermon about being an obedient servant of God. The sermon was on the story of Jesus being tested in the wilderness.
For any non- or lapsed-Christian readers, here’s the re-cap… Jesus went into the desert where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Then the devil appeared and tempted him three times. First, the devil told him to use his power as the son of God to turn stones into bread so that he could eat. But Jesus declined, explaining that faith, not just food is required to sustain us. Next, the devil taunted him to prove his holiness by throwing himself off the temple roof and forcing Got to save him. But Jesus responded that true faith does not need to be tested. Finally, the devil offered him power over all the kingdoms in the world in return for Jesus’s worship. But Jesus told the devil to be gone and was finally left alone.
I remembered this story from Sunday school, so it wasn’t the story itself that intrigued me, but how the pastor interpreted it. The pastor explained that Jesus proved he was an obedient servant of God, but not because of something he did. Rather, he was obedient because of what he didn’t do. He didn’t succumb to the temptation of disappointment (not having food), the temptation of doubt (wondering if he would be saved), or the temptation of desire (power over the kingdoms of the world).
Disappointment, doubt, and desire. That is what this Christian pastor wrote about, but it struck me as being very Buddhist. Buddhism teaches the importance of observing our mind and living in the present moment. From a Buddhist perspective it does no good to wallow in disappointment over things that happened in the past because they have gone. Neither is it productive to worry about whether you’ll get the things you desire in the future because it is always hypothetical and can never be controlled. The practice of “zen” is to trust (in other words, don’t doubt) that the present moment will provide everything you need because it’s all that ever is.
When I started thinking about obedience in these terms, it didn’t feel like losing autonomy, but rather like gaining a sense of security. Obedience to the now. Letting go of fear and worry and trusting that I can manage in the current moment. That’s the lesson I decided I needed after my study of the word obedience. So, for the time being, the angle card of obedience is sitting dutifully by my desk reminding me to stay present. She’ll stay there until I decide I’m ready for a new lesson and new meditation.
If my process strikes you as being too “woo-woo” that’s perfectly fine. We each need to find right tools to quite our minds. I am a non-linear thinker, so I often struggle to logic my way out of worries or problems when my thoughts go too wide. I appreciate the imposed structure that angel cards provide. But like everything, there are an infinite number of paths we can take. Each leads us to the exact same thing. The here and now.