The Prayer of Abandonment

Ls Kathy recounts how the prayer of Abandonment came into being:

The well-known "prayer of abandonment" is often the first, or even only, thing people know about Charles de Foucauld. They frequently find it both challenging and deeply meaningful or consoling.

Our foundress, Lsr Magdeleine, first heard of Charles de Foucauld when French novelist Rene Bazin published the first major biography in 1921. She recalled that it was a gloomy period in her life, just after the World War which had killed her two brothers and her sister:
"The one light in this dark period was reading the life and writings of Brother Chares of Jesus. In him I found at last the vision on which to build my life— the Gospel in action, total poverty, a love for littleness. And first and foremost, love in the fullest meaning of the word: 'Jesus-Caritas," Jesus-Love. 'I used to beg the Lord to let the time come soon when I could set out for the land of Islam... and find the footprints of Brother Charles, so I could live like him there".
Fifteen long years would pass before she could set out for Algeria. During that time she deepened her knowledge of him, copying passages of his meditations into notebooks. She eventually organized them under 77 different headings starting with "A" for "Abandonment" and ending with "W" for "Will of God."

She went to meet the newly formed "Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart" who were trying to follow his Rule. The fact that they were cloistered disappointed her, but it also showed her that her vocation was not to follow Br.Charles in any rules he wrote but in the life he had actually lived:
"He alone is our founder, l am only trying to understand his thought and pass it on to you, looking more at the lessons of his life and death than at his rule. Brother Charles of Jesus cannot be confined by a rule that he never actually lived himself, alone or with others."
Women came directly to the Sahara to join her as "postulants," when she was living in Touggourt, Algeria. They spent their days digging abandoned French barracks out of the sand in an effort to build their first "fraternity." After only a few weeks these first postulants had had enough:

"Sister Marie suddenly dashed her bucket and tools to the ground and burst out, 'You will lose all your vocations if you keep saying we're lucky when we're suffering like martyrs! This morning we had nothing to eat but raw onions, and not even enough water to wash in. I can't take it any more!"

"My poor sister Marie!' I answered, trying to encourage her. It's hard to follow in the footsteps of Father de Foucauld.'And she said, 'So I've noticed!"

With her second group of candidates, Lsr Magdeleine decided to be more cautious. They needed some kind of formation before they came to the Sahara. But she was so busy gathering funds to continue the work that she needed to entrust them to someone else for their initial formation.

A congregation in Lyons, France, agreed to take the first novices in. One of those novices recently turned 100! Her recollection of the early days includes an account of how the "Prayer of Abandonment" came to birth. She says that Lsr Magdeleine spent the first week together with them. Before setting off she wanted to leave them with a prayer that would form them in the spirit of Br. Charles:

"One evening, Lsr Magdeleine called Lsr Anne and me. She read us a meditation written by dr. Charles on the line from the Gospel, 'Father, into your hands I commend my soul'. She asked, 'Don't you think that would be a nice prayer to say each day? We were in complete agreement, but it couldn't be recited as he wrote it because his meditation was so full of repetitions. We read and re-read it, removing much of the repetition and trying to keep the key elements. And that night the prayer that we, together with so many others, now say each evening was born."

"Abandonment" was the first entry in Lsr Magdeleine's notebook of quotes from Br. Charles:
"It's the final prayer of our Master, our beloved... May it also be ours... May it not just be the prayer of our final moment, but of every moment..."

There followed the entire meditation, written while Br. Charles was a Trappist in Syria in 1896. He had been entrusted with two postulants and had begun writing meditations to help them focus on Jesus' words and examples. Rene Bazin had included the passage in his first anthology of Charles de Foucauld's writings, and that's where Lsr Magdeleine had found it. With her first novices they whittled it down to the prayer that is so well known today.

In Br. Charles' original meditation, he uses the expression "I abandon myself" only after repeating "I surrender myself," and "I entrust myself." "Abandon" was an important word for her. It was closely related to her vision of receiving the infant Jesus from the hands of his mother, Mary. In that experience, the child Jesus had "abandoned himself" into her hands. For her the only possible response was to make that self-abandonment reciprocal. It wasn't something gloomy, but something daring and joyful:
"Have you ever seen that often repeated gesture of a young father pretending to toss his little child out over a cliff? And the child laughs and laughs because he knows well that no harm can ever come to him from his father."

Many people comment that it is not an easy prayer to say. Indeed, there have been evenings when I have refused to say it! Seemingly insoluble problems can weigh heavy on my heart the aging and fragility of my Sisters, the eclipse of faith in the lives of many of those I care most about, the ecological mess we've made of this beloved blue planet. The Prayer of Abandonment invites me to lighten up. We are in the hands of the One who promises that
"All shall be well, and every manner of thing shall be well..."(spoken to Julian of Norwich)
Father 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.
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.