Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Praying Tree and a Holy Indifference

(Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio)

There is a pine tree in a forest preserve outside Lansing, Michigan, that I used to pray in. The branches formed a natural ladder. I would climb thirty feet up, sit on a branch, feel the wind swaying the tree, and pray.

I had made a leather wristband, and burned these words on it: "a holy indifference." By this I meant: indifferent to everything, except what God wants for me and says to me. One day I wore the wristband when I climbed the praying tree.

Ruth Haley Barton writes: 

"Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a model of what it means to be indifferent. Her prayer “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) is will  a wonderful expression of the kind of indifference we are talking about here." (Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 202)

Without a holy indifference we should not expect to hear much from God. Without indifference "the discernment process becomes little more than a rigged election!" (Ib.) This is because our agendas compete with the voice of God, which rarely matches our agendas.

"Indifference is an important prerequisite to the prayer for wisdom, because the wisdom of God is often the foolishness of this world; indifference to matters of our own ego, in particular, prepares us to receive this gift." (Ib., 203)

I tied the leather wristband around a limb of the praying tree. That was 1985, thirty-five years ago! Whenever I climbed the tree, I saw the wristband. 

This was, for a season of my life, my spiritual focus. I was learning holy indifference. 

On occasion, I think of going back and trying to find that tree. If the tree still stands, the wristband has become the tree. Hopefully, a holy indifference has become me.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God