As I continue to reflect on what it means to be a parish priest again, I keep thinking about the Ignatian concept of holy indifference. In his Principles and Foundations, Ignatius points to our ability to become more and more open to the love of God that wills the very best for us. Because our work is to accept the love of God into our lives, he says: “we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed by free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short. The same holds for all other things.” At first, those words sounded harsh to me and the harshness was magnified because I first started trying to attain that kind of indifference at a time when the limits of my capacity to minister effectively came into sharp focus. “If I have to make decisions in light of those limits, if I have to let go of something I hold dear,” I said to God, “at least let me wrap things up neatly”. It was only when I was able to surrender even that last bit of control that I discovered a dimension of my faith that I can only describe as an affectionate, abiding friendship with the One I call Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. I still try, at least, to snatch back the control often, but now, I am more aware, more cautious, about how I invest in trajectories and outcomes. Me and Jesus laugh at that foolishness from time to time…
When I think about the ministry I have ahead, as I thank God for second chances and new beginnings, I want to carry the work lightly, not cling, claw and clamor. I want to believe that the life changes Sherod and I have made will help make that possible. This morning, I went out, as I do every morning, to say hello to the chicken girls. They are thriving–growing, fussing with each other, curious, silly and funny. This business of being a group of chickens’ person is easier the second time around and it delights me that three of them are so comfortable around me that they like to perch on my arm or shoulder. I know one of these days, one of them will have an “accident” on me and whenever any of them flies up on me, I always tell her quite sternly that she and all the others are welcome but not to climb up on top my head. Of course, if I continue to offer hospitality, the risk is still there and it will be just my luck to have to wash chicken sh&t out of my hair. A good way to practice humility, actually.
Part of carrying on as a priest with less fear, with a lighter heart, involves laughing. Laughing a lot, in fact. That’s one of the gifts of this farm. Sherod and I can still spend hours just watching those silly girls when one snatches up a cricket and tears off with the others in hot pursuit, all of them peeping like tiny banshees. There also continues to be the wonder. The sheer wonder of what it means that I could go out this morning to do a bit of pruning on the roses and come back in with enough of them to put in a vase on our dining room table. This business of unclenching my hands is not just about surrender. It is also about accepting the small, never-ending and absolutely sufficient, gifts of grace. That is what makes holy indifference possible. On this farm I have learned some more about what it means that I am a part of a Eucharistic people.
Rosa, my friend
I read your posts at the end of my day and it’s like a prayer to reflect on your thoughts and actions. Often, it’s like reading a favorite book or a chapter from Barbara Brown Taylor (think about a book, here!)
Something I have learned while caring for Frank, as his dementia increases, is something a friend told me about: “la belle indifference” the beautiful indifference – often found in dementia patients.
Learning to leave my controlling nature behind and move forward with acceptance, sometimes beautiful, often not, I find the kind of peace that you describe. I think that too often we are swept away with our need to master, when it’s unnecessary. So here’s to “letting go, letting God!”
Enjoy your day!
Thanks you Rosa– I discovered your comments from a link at Ignatius Spirituality. http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/22373/accepting-grace
I was looking for clarification and encouragement as I am journeying through the Spiritual Exercises and in the section on indifference from the First Principle and Foundation. Thank you for reminding me that it is all about becoming more and more open to the love of God that wills the very best for us. This encouraged me today. Blessings!
And I just got a lesson on indifference in leaving this post response! I made a type-o in the first word and it is now to be left as is. 🙂