The Spiritual Discipline of Apathetic Prayer

Featured image for “The Spiritual Discipline of Apathetic Prayer”

Finally, a spiritual discipline I can conquer in one easy step.

Apathy and discipline don’t normally go together — apathy meaning “lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern,” and discipline meaning “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior.”

How could lack of enthusiasm or concern be a code of behavior? Let alone a beneficial code of behavior. Don’t they each repel the other?

Jimmy Fall ew

But think of the people you know who radiate peace.

Might they have a lack of concern about specific outcomes, or about plans? Aren’t they difficult to get riled up?

Many of my best parenting days were those when I didn’t have an agenda of any kind, and we let the day unspool as it did, so I tried to be agenda-free as often as I could (at least until I had to start making dinner).

mom trying to cook

Let’s go to my favorite word resource, the Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913 + 1828): Want of feeling; an utter privation of passion, or insensibility to pain; applied either to the body or the mind. As applied to the mind, it is stoicism, a calmness of mind incapable of being ruffled by pleasure, pain or passion. In the first ages of the church, the christians adopted the term to express a contempt of earthly concerns.


Okay, here’s where I have to confess that I misheard a friend. I heard apathetic prayer, but she’d said apophatic prayer, and the mishearing stuck in my head as kind of funny.

Truth is, I couldn’t be apathetic if you paid me.

Amy Poehler dancing

While I seek increased calmness and rootedness in my mind and in my life, I have no desire to be incapable of being ruffled by pleasure, plain, or passion.

This earth is what I have — I am concerned about it and about its citizens. I’m glad I can easily laugh with people, cry with people, cheer them on, get bothered about things. My passionate nature keeps me connected to the people around me and to God.

So while there’s something that sounds good about coming to God in prayer and not being attached to the outcome, it really would have to be a discipline for me.

In some ways, I do that already: I’ll often just lift people up in prayer, or ask for blessings, or for love to wrap around someone. That way, I’m not telling God how to do the job. But I’m always passionate about those people and those prayers, I always have my own hopes and desires for that person and that situation, and I’ll probably cry about it, whether it goes well or poorly.

So no apathetic prayer for me.

Apophatic prayer, though… “Apophatic’ prayer has no content. It means emptying the mind of words and ideas and simply resting in the presence of God.” 

That sounds appealingly experiential; I think I get there sometimes when I dance in church, or on those rare occasions when I’ve danced a prayer. That’s something I could try to practice (assuming that I will do it poorly for a good long time).

* * * * *

If you want to listen to the conversation in which my friend Lisa Delay does not say apathetic prayer, here it is. It’s in the second part of the podcast, in her interview with Ed Cyzewski.

Also, I had a lot of fun with for this post.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to our monthly eStories

Mailchimp Blog Subscription