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.