Friday, August 31, 2007

Come Be My Light

"Come Be My Light" by Brian Kolodiejchuk,
ISBN: 9780385520379 Publisher: Doubleday Books Pages: 416

In a discussion of James Martin's op ed piece about this book in the 8/29/07NYTimes, someone said to me

> Maybe she was clinically depressed or had some sort of mental problem?

Possibly. That was my first thought, also. I was very impressed with what the reviewer said about her intention to offer up this darkness on behalf of the world. That's love and generosity.

What also impressed me is that although she lived in a dark night, her faith endured. I know what that's like. I've had long long dark nights myself and eventually I realized God had gifted me with faith. Like Mother Theresa, I didn't have the "consolations of religion", as they are called, but the gift of faith which allowed me to continue to believe. I would guess this was Mother Theresa's experience. To me it only increases her witness and just another reason why she should be canonized.

My correspondent had other questions:

> God called her to work with the poorest of the poor but I >wonder if she had "times >apart for rest and restoration"? and maybe that calling of God was for a season not >for the rest of her life? I wonder if she could have had more >enlightened spiritual >direction? I wonder if she spent so >much time labouring and not enough time in >contemplative prayer and worship?

These are some interesting questions. I wonder if we will have the answers from Mother Theresa's own words in other letters or from conversations with others. Although, of course, the Missionaries of Charity are an active order, not a contemplative one.

I confess I have a somewhat personal response to these questions as a result of my own forty-six year experience with Major Depressive Disorder.W hen I was in the grip of the Insidious Dark, other people were always trying to fix me. Their attempts were always based on what, in their opinion, I did wrongly, that it was my fault and that I could change it if I only did x,y or z. I would try their suggestions and they wouldn't work. Eventually I realized with the help of my therapist that people did this because of the challenge I represented
to their own comfort zones.

So as I read the questions, I am reminded of all those questions which felt so blaming and judgemental... "Gloriamarie, if only you" or "Gloriamarie, why don't you" or "Gloriamarie, you should". To me, Sandie's questions sound to me like " Mother Theresa, you should go on a vacation" when nuns in an order or community don;t go on vacation, they go on retreats. Or "Mother Theresa, don't you think you made a mistake and God didn't intend you to do this the rest of your life?" despite the impact of her life and work, the witness alone convinces me this was her true vocation. Or
"Mother Theresa, you should get a new spiritual director" etc.

Dark Nights are not a bad thing. The apophatic tradition, the Via Negativa, is a long established one and there are those over the centuries who have written quite movingly about the silence of God. In our more modern world, we seem to have come to view discomfort or suffering as a bad thing. Something to be avoided. Of course, as humans we will do everything we can to avoid it.

The witness of the great saints, though, among the things that make them "great" to me, is how they approached their suffering, what they did with it. While I am certain that for a while they, being human, tried to wiggle out of it as any of us would, there also came a time when they accepted it as part of the package of their lives. The darkness, the suffering was transformed.

Seems to me most of us today want to live surrounded by the warm fuzzies rather than go deeper, higher up, further in to that place where we risk the loss of all comfort zone. We think we can't bear the silence. What the great saints teach us, though, is that we must face that utter silence at the very core of our being because that is the God shaped hole within each of us and nothing but God fits, no matter what we stuff into it.

This is not to say that God wills all the suffering. I am of the belief that we have trouble in our lives because we live in a sinful world and that there are consequences to the actions and decisions made. Not just the ones that we ourselves make but the ones of those who have gone before. An example: my nuclear family was dysfunctional probably because the nuclear families of my parents were dysfunctional as were theirs before them etc.

There are those who do what is right for no other reason than that it is right and with no other reward than that of knowing it is right. Somehow, it is the conviction of the rightness of their path that sustains them.

While I am certainly no saint, I said above that I've had my own struggles with the Insidious Dark. Decades of dark night had been preceded by a vision that I live my life within God's cupped hands. Throughout those decades, I'd think back to that vision. No great warm comforting feelings accompanied the memory. I had only the truth that I had this vision and the memory of the conviction that came with the vision that whatever else happened to me, I live my life in God's cupped hands.

Mother Theresa's letters tell us that she clearly heard God telling her to go and work with the poor. While I don't begin to compare myself to her, I do know what it is like to have the memory of something that helps one keepin' on keepin' on doing the right thing.

My correspondent continues:

> What a shame that she lacked joy, seems like she could >show the love of Jesus but >not the joy, not the vibrant faith, not the fullness of life, and not the peace.

Why is that a shame? How can one possibly show the love of Jesus' without knowing it? The New Testament teaches us that the Holy Spirit works within in a manner that is far beyond our comprehension. I think Mother Theresa trusted that dynamic within her.

She offered that darkness on behalf of the poor, by it she identified with the poor, by it she experienced what the poor experienced. Possibly she carried the sufferings of those to weak to carry it for themselves?

We Christians are the Body of Christ, the body has different parts and needs everyone one of them. Instead of looking at what Mother Theresa lacked and judge her for it, let's instead look at what she did, an instrument of God's mercy and righteousness that is the witness of her life. Perhaps it was necessary that she experience what she did because that was what motivated her efforts? Let us commend her for her selflessness. She could have run away from the silence as so many of us do to look for anything whatsoever to fill up that silence and refusing to admit that there is nothing that will ever fill it up. Mother Theresa endured the silence, I am convinced, because she knew that nothing but God would ever fill it.

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