Monday, August 27, 2007

Teresa and her "Absent One"

This evening, I scheduled a few hours of "down time" for me to rest and recuperate after a very busy and emotionally turbulent weekend. Part of my R&R included reading a fascinating article from TIME magazine on the spiritual life of Mother Teresa. The article is based upon the collection of Teresa's correspondance with her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, called Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, edited by Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk.

Through the publication of Teresa's private letters, the book reveals that the saint of Calcutta struggled with a "dark night of the soul" for the majority of her life. Although she served Christ faithfully and sacrificially, teaching others to do the same, Teresa came to call her beloved Savior, "the Absent One," and her times of seeking God, "darkness," "dryness," "loneliness," and "torture." What follows is an excerpt of one letter provided by the article in TIME:

Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me?
The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one —
the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved.
I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer —
no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One. — Alone ...
Where is my Faith — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness —
My God — how painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith —
I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart — & make me suffer untold agony.
So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them —
because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me —
When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven —
there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul.
I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.
Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?

(Mother Teresa, note addressed to Jesus, undated)

Although many will surely be ruffled by this revelation, I find myself comforted in the knowledge of Teresa's struggle. She is only one of innumerable people of God who struggle with intense doubts and feelings of abandonment by God. Moreover, her cries echo the desperate question of our Lord: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

I look forward to reading the book. For tonight, I find myself even more amazed with the God who chose to empower a little, doubting, pained woman from Calcutta in order to share Christ's love with the world.


Joseph said...

Mother Teresa's cry is very similar to the one uttered years ago by Dag Hammarskjold in his Markings. It is good in cases of this kind to remember that, as John Westerhoff pointed out when he elaborated a Faith Development theory and identified a stage he called "searching faith", when questions and doubts are raised, that it is still faith. Mother Teresa's cry is a cry of faith, as I hear it.

I think too of John A. T. Robinson in Honest to God, speaking of his experience during a prolonged illness of the "absence of God."

You can tell by my literary references, doubtless, that I am a senior citizen!

Emily Hunter McGowin said...


Thanks for the comment. I couldn't agree more. Teresa's cry is a cry of faith, for sure.

Your literary references are diverse, but I had no inkling you were a senior citizen until you said so!

Grace and peace,


traveller said...

Thank you for these thoughts. I had read this article during the last few days and find it quite fascinating. Your connecting it to Jesus' words on the cross is an interesting analogy.

Until recent years I had always taken those words of Jesus as reflecting the true reality....Father did forsake him. However, more recently I have come to think it more likely that this was merely Jesus' human perception through all the physical and spiritual pain of his experience on the cross. For how could Father have forsaken Jesus since the Trinity remains one in three? Indeed, as Jesus suffered so did Father and Spirit. This was not our loving Father forsaking Jesus but joining him in the agony of all the cross was for us.

So, while I may have periods of darkness of my own soul, there is a confidence that the Trinity lives through that with me even when my human abilities to perceive the reality of their presence are obscured by my own darkness.

What great love our Father has for us!

Strider said...

I saw an interview on CNN with a Church official about this. He was asked if Teresa's lack of faith was an embarrassment to a Church that had sainted her. He replied that it made her all the more remarkable in that she continued to serve so faithfully the one whom she could not see or feel. I liked his answer very much. God could put all of our doubts and fears to rest in an instant if he chose to but he continues to let us wander in a dark and evil world as he creates in us a soul that is able to love and serve him in the midst of everything that Hell can throw at us.

Les Puryear said...

The critical comments I have read on other blogs about Mother Teresa's honesty reminds me of why we Christians lack transparency. If we don't keep our masks on, others may think we're weak in our faith.

I, for one, applaud Mother Teresa's openness and transparency. I long for the day when we can be ourselves instead of trying to be what we think others want us to be.


Joseph said...

Only a couple of weeks ago I did a sermon called, "Getting Real With Your Self", based on Mark 14:3-9 (the woman with the gift of ointment/perfume) that argued that Jesus, authentic human, showed us how to remove our masks and admit to ourselves who we really are. I used Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem, "We Wear the Mask", and especially its cry, "We smile, but O great Christ, our cries to Thee from tortured souls arise."

I followed that this past Sunday with "Getting Real With God", also from Mark 14, this time 32-42, and again posited Jesus as authentic human who could speak exactly what He felt, even though it was not pretty, "I am grieved, even to death."

When we discount someone because they are struggling, we do the Christian faith a great disservice. I am reading about this insight into Mother Teresa on a bulletin board, and there is an incredible amount of self-righteous stuff about "If she were really saved ..", much of it viciously anti-Catholic. Sad.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Les and Joseph,

I don't know if I'm naive or what, but, honestly, it never occurred to me to think that Teresa's doubts were due to her lack of salvation. I've gone through periods of trials where not only did I think God had abandoned me, but I cursed him in my head for my circumstances. In my opinion, I was no less his child and no less in the Kingdom then than I am now.

Thanks for your thoughts,