Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Yes, but, which direction?

"...A long
obedience
in the same
direction..."

-Friedrich Nietzsche


Though Nietzsche can be credited with the phrasing, it has since been appropriated by Eugene Peterson as the title of a book, which I am currently reading.

This sentence fragment has been looming in the recesses of my mind since the first time I heard it, replaying itself as a cadence, scrolling on a marquee.

I quite like the sound of it, though the implications are daunting. What could it mean? What does it mean for me? What would such a discipline yield?


I'm learning that it creates a rhythmic peace; a quiet determination; a humbling of the self. Humility is such a mystery to me, and it is a transformation that actually frightens me. It is the release of control, the relinquishing of the reins and the admission that I might not know, or I might not be, which bubbles up my anxiety
.

But we know that humility is an important lesson- it is a virtue, one that we are taught as children and one that is drilled into us as we age. In fact, I think I have come to realize it is the last thing we learn on this earth- a parting shot as our liver-spotted skin sags and our hair falls out and our teeth rot with age. There is nothing graceful about aging, which is why aging gracefully is such a lovely and desirable trait in people. Humility is a by-product of obedience.

In addition to humility, "a long obedience in the same direction" suggests a decision- a repentance, or a turning away from the alternative, which is to say, the other direction. Obedience is willful, as opposed to simple compliance. Obedience implies a striving, a longing. It also implies a sort of reward, or at least does to me, because it isn't an infinite obedience - it's a long one. Something that is long eventually ends.

Anyone who has read anything I've been processing through this last year knows about my fascination with obedience, freedom, and decision-making.
I think this is just another tool in learning how to harness those powerful ideas. The full quote reads:
"The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is. . . that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living."
Even Nietzsche, with his nihilistic tendencies, could believe that.



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