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Monday, September 3, 2007

The Revelation of Mother Teresa

Ten years ago, September 4th, Mother Teresa died. Her death was overshadowed by Diana's which had occured just a week or so beforehand. It was as if we couldn't sustain so much loss or grief.

Now we discover that Mother Teresa had doubts; serious, lifelong doubts about the existence, presence, and assurance of God. She reminds me of John Wesley. Wesley was plagued by doubt, we often say, until he had his heart strangely warmed at Aldersgate. Yet if we read Wesley closely, we discover that he continued to struggle with the same doubt that plagued Mother Teresa.

My 91-year-old "mother," a longtime admirer of Mother Teresa's and a woman of great faith herself, was initially devastated by this news. Now it has settled into a sadness that she would have to live with such doubt and darkness throughout her life and work.

Many have said that it will make her not only a "saint" in regards to her works but also her interior life; her letters now reveal far more to us than the actions that we associate with her. Others like Christopher Hitchens, an atheist, has a field day with her doubt. Her doubt, he suggests in his comments in Time Magazine, means that her life was meaningless; a contradiction to her words. Was it hypocrisy? Or ultimate faith?

What lessons do we learn from this new revelation about Mother Teresa?

How does it touch you? And your faith?

How have you shared it with others? (Has it been an opportunity to talk with those who don't go to church or even believe in God?)



tigers said...

After reading the article about Mother Teresa I was left wondering why so many leaders in the faith believe that doubt and lack of a sense of the presence of God are bad things to be hidden away or covered up. The scriptures are full of people who doubted, who at times did not sense the presence of God (even Jesus) and who even felt the presence of God as invasive and abusive (Jeremiah 20:7ff. As ministers, I think we need to be more transparent about these moments and even seasons in our own lives. Honestly, Mother Teresa did not share anything that was foreign to me. I would assume this to be true for most parishioners as well.

Jim Gaughan said...

As a guest preacher on Sunday, I used the Time article, as well as a short history of saints' dark nights, as well as my own far less severe personal experience, as a commentary on Sunday's OT lectionary reading from Jeremiah re placing 'false gods' before God.
Bottom line: Should be no surprise, much less an occasion for dismay, to hear that Mother Teresa--as Jesus' himself before his crucifixion and most of the great saints of history have variously experienced--had her extraordinarily long 'dark night of the soul.' Often sign of how close we really are to God and God to us. Christian paradox: The closer we are to God, the more we sometimes 'feel' at a great distance. Reminds me of "Footprints in the Sand" story. An occasional dark night keeps us humble and protects us from idolatry of false gods, especially the kind that expresses itself in self-righteousness.

Jim Gaughan

Richard Harper said...

The Sunday before the Time article appeared I preached a sermon on Thomas entitled, "In Our Doubt There Is Believing," a phrase I appropriated from Natalie Sleeth's "Hymn of Promise." I got several responses from people who appreciated my "not so cock-sure" approach to Christian thinking and living. They felt they could talk with me freely without being judged harshly for having questions about matters of faith. I'm grateful that Mother Teresa's struggles have come to light--she wasn't afraid to express them to God--it was the Church's reaction she feared. --Richard Harper

Roger Grafenstein said...

After reading various comments on Mother Teresa's doubts--I think the atheist's criticism of Mother Teresa's life speaks volumes of what we've come to equate "faith" with in our society--"knowing." Special knowledge, certainty, a way to find a logical reason for our existence and the existence of God. Nutshelled, there is a tendency to narrow "Christianity" down to "have faith and someday you will live in heaven." I prefer a lower Christology--the Jesus who really didn't "know" on his journey to the cross that Easter would follow--but was willing to take the risk anyway, trusting there was a good God who would somehow make things right in spite of doubt. I think Jesus' way was more complex than Christians often make it. "In the midst of doubts, attempt to live faithfully and perhaps bring a bit of heaven on earth." Certainly, the early disciples marched forward in spite of doubt. Such is faith. Roger Grafenstein

Karen Lundgren, Redwood Falls said...

At hearing the first account of Mother Teresa's doubts in her faith, several thoughts raced through my mind: Why should she be any different than most tested souls when fatigue and fear sap our mortal strengths? Then the concerns for all the ways Satan and those who struggle with or against fiath in Jesus Christ could use this revelation as a platform to substanciate non-belief - thinking this revelation may be a poor witness for Christianity. Then the ever-present concern for the validity or lack of context of the facts as Mother Teresa had actually experienced them.
After all these thoughts, I've come to the conclusion that I believe that the same God who walked Mother Teresa's amazing ministry with her, is the same God who is in the revealing of these doubts that are common to all mankind. Because I believe the many promises of Jesus, I also believe him when he says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9a NIV
Perhaps God has chosen this time to reveal his power through Mother Teresa's weaknesses. Through all the doubts, it can be exciting to see how he will reveal his power.
Karen Lundgren

David said...

I appreciate the thoughtful responses to your questions already shared. I have had the joy of reading other such responses on blogs of clergy colleagues (Jeff Ozane and Michelle Hargrave) and plan to write about this on my own blog. Here I would simply say that I used the Mother Teresa story in my sermon for today, as many others may have done. I would also say that my respect for Mother Teresa has actually deepened. She can no longer be put in a box with "one dimensional" saints whose holiness so far out strips the normal lives of humans that she can only be admired rather than emulated. She sought to follow Jesus and in that following struggled with internal doubt, dark nights of the soul - - - yet she continued to follow. If she did not experience Jesus as close, others experienced Jesus as close when they were with her, and that is something we can strive to be - Jesus for others.

Marj said...

If it weren't for doubt, Thomas would not have thrust his hand into Christ's wounded side. Likewise, perhaps Mother Theresa never would have thrust herself into the "wounded side" of the world.

She chose to be a Christian and took her committment seriously, not only when it was easy, but for decades when it wasn't. Perhaps like love, our culture too often equates Christianity with a feeling rather than with a committment. Therefore, I don't think this makes Mother Theresa a hypocrite. If being a Christian were a feeling, one could argue that her life was hypocritical. But if one sees Christianity as a committment, than rather than a hypocrite, Mother Theresa's doubts make her already extraordinary committment that much more extraordinary because she didn't have the luxury of the accompanying feelings.

If she were a track racer, this would be the equivelent of running with torn ligaments and still taking the gold medal. Although I have said she was all the more extraordinary and a gold medalist, that doesn't mean that I and others who are more ordinary can't heed her example. Indeed, the revelation of her doubts presents an opportunity to the rest of us to realize that even if we are doubt-ridden, we can still choose a Christian life, too.

Richard Harper said, "she wasn't afraid to express [her struggles] to God--it was the church's reaction she feared." He's right, and we as the church really have a lot of progress to make in embracing doubt and doubters.

Anonymous said...

I think if Mother Theresa could have doubts it just proves that anyone could. And the kind of work she did in the kind of place that she did it...wo wouldnt have doubts at times. I always thought she was a saint and this doesnt prove any different for me, it just reaffirms that even "the best of us" can have doubts. Blaine UMC

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