Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Regarding the Mother

Time Magazine's cover story this week is about Mother Teresa, whose private correspondences have been published in a book entitled, "Mother Teresa: Come be My Light." The book provides ample evidence that the heart of this great woman wrestled with a profound sense of God's absence during the vast majority of her days serving among the poorest of the poor. All the while, she was also an articulate spokeswoman for the joy that is to be found in serving each and every person, especially those living on the margins, as if they were Christ Himself.

The contradiction has created a weight of evidence for both the faith and the skeptical. The former point to her perseverance in faith and service as evidence of both the reality and depth of her relationship with God. The latter paint her perseverance as comical. Christopher Hitchens, author of "God is Not Great" wrote that "she was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself."

It seems that there is still a third lens through which to consider the great life, a lens that considers her story by weighing it in the light of scripture. Here are the realities:

1. There is rich blessing in caring for the poor. This is the teaching of the Bible in many places. So one must perhaps wonder what form this 'blessing' takes, if the fruit of her ministry, at least as it effects her heart, was that she lived with a nearly continual sense of God's absence. The reality of 'blessing' must be balanced with a second consideration.

2. Those who folly God fully are not exempt from deep anguish. Indeed, the vast weight of Biblical testimony confirms this, whether one looks at Abraham, David, Job, or Jesus Himself. I find it hysterical that Hitchins would site Mother T's sense of God's absence as a proof that God doesn't exist - for consistency in his argument would then demand that those who do sense God presence are living proof that God does exist. Our skeptical friend, however, chooses his evidence very selectively, and thus loses credibility quickly. But I digress...

3. Her writings highlight what I consider to be a critical distinction between much that is in Catholic theology/church history, and the convictions that are inherent in my theology, which is well articulated in the this Torchbearer doctrinal position. Because I believe this to be truth, I needn't wait for any sense of 'feeling God's presence' to confirm the reality of God's presence. This is a reality for which I give thanks, by faith, each day - thanking God in advance that as we make ourselves available to Him, He will express a life through us which testifies to the reality of God's character. Mercy, justice, wisdom, strength, joy - all not our own, but flowing out from His life, are available. Ours is simply, by faith - to give thanks.

It would seem a terrible burden to bear if I need to pray for God's presence, or for His mercy, grace, peace, joy. The reality is that it's already given, and that it is mine to simply say thank you. I'll even go a step further and say that this simple act of giving thanks may not change the outward sense of God's presence our absence, but that it nonetheless changes everything. It's what enabled the same Paul who spoke of despairing even of life, also speak of overwhelmingly conquering in all things. Contradictory? Not at all - there will no doubt be moments of darkness. But they don't mean God is absent, and more than the clouds in the above picture mean the summit has disappeared. I still give thanks - still move forward - still believe.

I'm afraid that those who speak of the dark night of the soul are sometimes waiting for a God to show up who is already there - and that's sad, because it can create great guilt or questioning, or waiting - when what he intends is the simple faith that believes in His presence... and gives thanks... and gets on with it.

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At 29/8/07 23:29, Anonymous Sierra said...

I heard the Catholic priest speaking about this book on NPR. It pricked my ears.

I have a lot of thoughts about the Mother after hearing of her predicament. But I will keep it simple. I was raised with people who were bound in all sorts of ways by faith. As I have grown older I have realized that they had all kinds of other human foibles. It is through that lens that we experience God. To me it sounds like she suffered from depression or perhaps was bipolar. At the very least, she carried an experience that she could not share--due to her role as a leader of the faithful.

The most important message I have received since I started coming to Bethany a few months ago is: we come to God as human beings who are all broken in some way. Whether you are a pastor of urbanites in post-modern city or a woman admired universally for your calling, you are the same before God.

I don't even give Mr. Hitchens a second thought, except his observations often do seem interesting. Since I was a child it has been clear to me that those who question the existence of God are, in some way, those with deepest longing. I certainly celebrate the challenge he makes to those who have confused politics and religion. But, I DIGRESS.

I read a little of the piece you linked to, the one with lots of excerpts from her book. It sounds so fascinating. I predict loads of art, theatre and even novels from her writing. There are so many great spiritual writers but they all appeared to live in the middle ages--until now.

Also, I noticed as I read that there were lots of more pedestrian notes from various church observers. Look, the best we can do with truly great human beings like M.T. is try to chart our own course by observation. Jesus spoke to her five or six times it seems, but she demanded, needed, longed for more. She carried on this incessant desire to be with God every minute. This is so fantastic, and not that different from Rilke, except that he was a poet and her path demanded action.

I think this book would make a great book to read as a group. Any takers?

At 30/8/07 19:37, Blogger Elizabeth said...

I have gone through many dark nights, in fact, years of dark nights and continue to do so on a regular basis. And though I always knew that Christ was present, I did not have any felt sense of His presence. It was a relief to read that someone as great as Mother Theresa has experienced the same feelings.

Still, in those dark nights, I think this is where the need for perseverance comes Paul says in Romans. In other words, even if I do not consciously know how to access Christ, I still know that He exists, which is the basis of perseverance and faith and the basis of my faith. To remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God, including our own doubt, has been an enormous comfort to me...

I empathize with Mother Theresa's struggles and as the most ordinary of human beings, I am thankful that I am not alone in my occasional bewilderment with my faith.

I also think that Christopher Hitchens' arguments are moot. I sincerely believe that the one thing he cannot explain is how Christ changes our lives--which I believe is what He did for Mother Theresa and what He does every day with each person willing to follow Him.

At 10/9/07 11:23, Blogger Ilse said...

This was a "perfect" posting, as I have been having a long dialogue with my friend who is contemplating converting to Catholicism. Thanks for your insights


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