Advent 4: Mary and the Prayer of Indifference
Lectionary readings for December 18, 2011: 2 Samuel 7: 1-11,16; Luke 1:46b-55; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Most of us don’t think of indifference as being very positive. In fact, we tend to identify indifference as an attitude of apathy or not caring—exactly the opposite of the passion and drive we associate with good leadership. However in the spiritual life, indifference can be a very positive term, one that is rich with spiritual significance. It means “I am indifferent to anything but God’s will.”
The prayer of indifference expresses the fact that we have come to a place where we want God’s will—nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. It means we want God’s will more than our own personal comfort or safety, more than ego-gratification or wanting to look good in the eyes of others, more than our own pleasure or preference, more than whatever it is we think we want. It is a state of wide openness to God in which we are free from undue attachments and have the capacity to relinquish whatever might keep us from choosing for God and for love in the world. It is a prayer in which we abandon ourselves to God.
Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement about what would take place in her life was a true prayer of indifference in that she expressed a profound readiness to set aside her own personal concerns in order to participate in the will of God as it unfolded in human history. Mary was more than just an available womb; she was a person willing to receive Christ into the very depths of her being, allowing his presence to incubate there in the darkness until the fullness of time when God’s will would be completely revealed. It was this “indifference” to anything but the will of God that prepared her to participate so fully in God’s plan for the redemption of humankind. She said yes to God with “a courage that opened her utterly” to the coming of Christ into her body and into her life.
Indifference is not something we can achieve for ourselves; it is a gift of grace that God alone can accomplish as we learn how to open ourselves to it. There are, in fact, two aspects of this prayer. There is the prayer for indifference in which we open to the gift by asking for something we do not yet have. And then there is the prayer of indifference which is the answer to that prayer— the ability to say, in truth, “I am indifferent to anything but the will of God.” The prayer of indifference carries us across the threshold between two worlds—from the world of human will and action to a world in which we are participants in the Divine will that has already been set in motion.
As the Advent season deepens and we journey ever closer to this fullness in time, may our preparations for the coming of Christ include the prayer to be made indifferent to anything but the will of God. Mary’s prayer shows us the way. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
A Prayer of Abandonment
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you;
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures—
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need
to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands
without reserve and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father. Amen.
– Charles de Foucauld
©Ruth Haley Barton, 2011. Feel free to share this article using the buttons below; please do not reproduce and distribute without permission.
Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founder of the Transforming Center. A teacher, spiritual director, and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (June 2012) and Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.
Where do you need to be made indifferent to anything but the will of God?
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