Friday, February 18, 2011

From Emptiness to Fullness: Holy Indifference & Kenosis

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Today's post is something that just came to my mind, so please journey with me for a moment, and please feel free to jump in with your own thoughts and reflections in the comment box.

I was thinking today about indifference, and what it means, particularly for Judeo-Christian people. I mean, if we believe in God and some sort of purpose for life, is there any place for such an attitude or state of mind as indifference? Here are my initial thoughts on the matter. Indifference that stems from apathy is a negative thing, and I suspect that it is really fear-based (i.e., I am afraid that I will fail at something, so I act like I don't care about trying; or I love someone very much but I fear not being loved in return, so I act like I don't care about that person). But then there is another type of indifference known as 'holy indifference' which is a positive thing -- namely, that we can learn to not be so attached to our emotional responses to situations, but rather accept everything that happens in our lives as part of the material in which a ruling power higher than us is at work. This kind of indifference is not fear based, but rather is a detachment that is based on trust in divine providence.

And this led me to another thought -- while apathy seems to be rooted in a spiritual emptiness which clings to nothing for fear of losing everything, holy indifference requires a self-emptying (or kenosis) that allows us to be filled with the presence of God. In other words, we are emptying ourselves to be filled with, and completed by, an Other. This type of self-emptying does not deny pleasure or pain, but becomes detached from it as one begins to trust in the power of the Other to direct all things unto their ultimate good.

While I was an undergraduate, I went on a travel course (twice -- no, I didn't flunk, I just went once as a regular course and once as an independent study) to a place called Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center in Colorado. It is a western Tibetan Buddhist retreat center, and as part of the course experience we learned about and practiced what they called mindfulness-awareness (Shamata Vipassana) meditation. It was a really great experience, which ultimately led me deeper in prayer and understanding of my own Catholic faith as life went on. In any case, the reason I mention this here is that in Buddhism, the focus of meditation is the emptying of the mind. In Christian meditation, we seek to empty first (a part that many of us miss!) so that we can be filled with the presence of Christ.

This emptying is particularly important in such a fast information age where we are almost constantly inundated with information from so many different sources:

It is through our own self-emptying that we seek to enter more fully into Christ's own kenosis, one so profound that he willingly entered into the greatest possible human suffering for the sake of the divine purpose in which he trusted so fully. Insofar as we learn to do the same, I believe that we replace apathy with holy indifference, and lack of human concern with authentic human love.

What do you all think?

Peace and all good,


  1. It is kind of like when we submit ourselves to God, it is then that we find freedom. Or, I must decrease, He must increase. More of Him, less of me.

  2. Good thought, Denise -- thanks for sharing it. Yes, for Christians, having less of us is not just to eliminate ego, but to have an increase of God in our lives.

  3. And, that right there is the difference. In Christianity, there must be an emptying of self so that God can be. My dad told me that when he was growing up Buddhist, his meditations was just to empty his mind.