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Mother Teresa

Last week I read an article in Time magazine about Mother Teresa titled, “Mother Teresa’s Crises of Faith” by David Van Biema.  The article comments on the public opening of Mother Teresa’s personal writings and letters and the recent release of a book that gives specific insight into her private correspondence with her confessors and church superiors.

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Mother Teresa’s very personal letters and honest correspondence reveal a very remarkable and somewhat stunning facet of her life.  It appears that for nearly the last fifty years of her life, Mother Teresa felt a very stark absence of God in the depths of her heart—much like what some have called the “Dark Night of the Soul.”  Mother_teresa

This insight into the “state” of Mother Teresa’s heart during the last half of her life is shocking because it is in such vivid contrast to her outward life and appearance which was characterized by an abandoned service unto others in the name of Jesus Christ and of a deeply stated love for God.  Thus, the question follows, “How could Mother Teresa live like she lived and love like she loved and not “feel” God and “experience” a deep sense of faith in her life?”  Was her life and her religion a sham, a farce, a form of hypocrisy not only to herself but also to the world around her?

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As I consider these and the many other questions that are swirling around about Mother Teresa’s inner life, I find myself thinking about my own heart and about the hearts of my friends and family.  I find myself thinking about the path of spiritual formation that we all travel and I wonder what bearing the life of our fellow pilgrim, Mother Teresa, will have upon each of our journeys.

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I don’t know much about the “Dark Night of the Soul” except to say that I am convinced that it is a very real aspect of spiritual life and growth.  Even though the term “dark night” was first coined by St. John of Cross in the 16th century its presence in one form or another is evident in the lives of God followers throughout the Biblical narrative.  I was interested to find that one of my favorite twentieth century devotional writers, Oswald Chambers, struggled with the personal spiritual experience of the “dark night.”  In his journal, Chambers shares of a time in his life when he prayed to God for the infilling of the Holy Spirit in his heart and soon thereafter he felt he entered into a time of the “dark night” that lasted four years.  Regarding the situation Chambers wrote the following:

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“From that day on for four years nothing but the overruling grace of God and the kindness of friends kept me out of an asylum.  God used me during those years for the conversion of souls, but I had no conscious communion with Him.  The Bible was the dullest, most uninteresting book in existence, and the sense of depravity, the vileness and bad-motivedness of my nature was terrific.”

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The “dark night,” although undefined in specific nature and time frame stands out clearly as a formational stage for some travelers along the spiritual journey.

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Is Mother Teresa’s “heart condition,”—her struggle with the “dark night of the soul”—a sign of weakness?  Does the fact that she wrestled with doubt, that she felt abandoned by God and that she simultaneously expressed a trust in and love for God serve as a contradiction to the genuineness of her ministry unto others and service for God?  Does it serve to diminish the depth of her faith and call into question the authenticity of her spiritual life?

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I find the answer to those questions in two places:  In the eyes and the words of the dying beggar on the streets of Calcutta, India and in the eyes and words of the guy that sits across the table from me in the coffee shop.

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I wonder how many times Mother Teresa heard the Hindu word “namaste” whispered in her ear as she bandaged the oozing sores of the lepers and offered comfort, care and love to those dying in the dark places of the world.  Within Hinduism the word “namaste” is a mystical, multi—meaning word that is often used to express great thankfulness and honor to another person.  “Namaste” means, “I honor the holy one who lives in you.”  The holy one living in Mother Teresa was Jesus Christ.  From the dark night of Mother Teresa’s soul the Light of the World shone forth, illuminating the dark places of Calcutta, India with compassion, peace and love.

                                          

As I sit across the table from my friend in the coffee shop and endeavor to help him along in his spiritual journey I am thankful for the insight into spiritual living that Mother Teresa’s life offers.  The “men’s spiritual growth” book that we are going through together is well meaning and offers good, practical guidance along the lines of spiritual growth however, my friend’s spiritual questions and struggles are resonating at a much deeper level than the book’s cleverly written admonishment to steer clear of the pitfalls of “wine, women and song.”  My friend’s questions and struggles remind me that our lives and our hearts are very deep and complex in nature.  We are created in the image of and by the very hand of God and God’s hand and place in our lives as it relates to our spiritual formation is realized at a much deeper level than “feelings” or perceived performance.  Faith in God is not a commodity or a club to ascribe to but rather it is something that is found in the deepest of all places—the place of the heart. I think the glimpse that we have been given into Mother Teresa’s heart is an important reminder that there is much to learn and heed about people and about the depths of their hearts as it relates to spiritual formation.

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Is the revelation about Mother Teresa’s inner life really that concerning as we consider the mystery of God throughout the scriptural narrative?  In chapter 3 of the book of John Jesus speaks of the mystery of spiritual things.  He talks to Nicodemus about the Spirit and He says that it is “like the wind” that cannot be grasped, guided nor contained—blowing where it will.  Is Mother Teresa’s life of faith and extreme struggle therein any more mysterious?

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Is Mother Teresa’s “dark night” all that different from John the Baptist’s questioning of Jesus from a prison cell?  In Luke 7 we find John the Baptist, (the one from the desert, the one that heard God’s voice) in a very dark place and he is looking for his own conception of light from Jesus.  He sends his friends to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  It seems that Jesus only adds to the darkness with his response, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

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God’s ways are higher than our ways and higher than our ideas about what His presence should look like and feel like in our lives and in the world around us.  I am reminded of this as I read about Mother Teresa’s “crises of faith.”  When we look at Mother Teresa we perceive an extreme outer life of strength and yet her writings reveal an extreme internal life of weakness.  We all know now that God’s power was made perfect in her weakness.  I am encouraged by Mother Teresa’s life and her writings because I know my own heart and life and my own weaknesses.  I am encouraged by her faith that shines out through the darkness in her heart.

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I close this rather disjointed ramble with a quote from Oswald Chambers:

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“Be strong in the Lord,”—we much prefer to be strong for the Lord.  The only way to be strong in the Lord is to be “weak in Him.”

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It appears that God’s power is still being made perfect in Mother Teresa’s weakness.

Comments

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Chris J

This is a very thoughtful piece, I was somewhat bewildered by her writings, this was certainly not displayed in her life, maybe a fear of losing some support for her ministry. If that is true,how sad to struggle with doubt and have no outlet or transparency to admit humanness. I too reflected on OC's experiences with his separation from the God he thought he knew only to find God who is. We are all on that journey, too often I choose to step aside and wrestle with the worries of the world and not with the God who seeks to perfect me to the image of His Son. Thanks for rambling.

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