Ausculta, "Listen, my son . . . ."-the opening words of the Rule of Saint Benedict are an invitation to the way of obedience. The Latin word for listening, audire, is related to that for obedience, obaudire. The obedient person is one who listens, for we must first hear what is the will of God in order to be able to do it. However, the obedient person not only hears, he acts, he does the will of God. The Cistercian life is set apart from the activities of the secular world, from the places where many live and act and make their inevitable noise, so that we can more easily listen. The Cistercian way inculcates a love for silence and provides amply for it so that we may more readily hear the divine voice. The Cistercian way sees lectio with its full development into contemplative prayer as one of its basic practices for it is here that God speaks to us most directly, intimately, and personally. The Cistercian way allows for an abundance of gracious space so that the monk may listen to God speaking to him within himself, in and through his brothers and through all the wonders of God's munificent creation as well as through God's inspired Word.
"Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." This is the attitude Cistercians seek to cultivate as we walk along our way. A constant listening to God in all the ways he can speak to us and call us forth, so that with all our heart we can say: Yes, be it done unto me according to your word.
We are, each one of us, a certain listening. We have a certain openness, a certain receptivity to all that comes to us, whether it be through the ears or the eyes or any of the other senses. The listening that we are has been formed by all the influences that have shaped us. Truth and right reasoning, both at the human and divine level, have been inculcated into us by parents, Church, schooling, society, television, reading, study, etc. These have also inculcated into us certain positions, attitudes, and prejudices. We have our own ideas, values, and principles. These filter all that we receive and they set parameters to what we do receive. Some of us have very rigid parameters and can hear little or nothing of what falls outside of our pre-established boundaries. Others are more open and are constantly allowing their perceptions to expand their boundaries so that they can hear more and more, allowing the goodness, truth and beauty of other persons, of other religions, of other philosophical traditions, of this whole wondrous creation to enrich them.
In contemplation, following the yearnings of our heart, we allow all our parameters to fall away so that the fullness of God can come into us and take us beyond ourselves, bringing us into the experience of the divine goodness, truth and beauty in itself and in all of his creation. Only the person who practices contemplation, who allows the Holy Spirit to act freely within him through her gifts, can truly hear and can be fully obedient. Everyone who has been baptized into Christ has been given these gifts of the Holy Spirit, has been given the Holy Spirit herself, is called to contemplation, is called to this kind of completely open listening, is called to be led like Christ by the Spirit.
The process whereby contemplation heals, frees, and opens us is usually a long one. All along the way we struggle to discern the will of God for us and how we can be a complete yes to him. One of the great gifts that is given to us in the Cistercian life is the good of obedience. God as it were makes a contract with us. If we commit ourselves to the Cistercian way, he will guide us through the Rule and constitutions, through the local customs and guidelines, and through the directives of our superiors and even of our brethren.
M Basil Pennington (1992) The Cistercians Liturgical Press