A collection of letters from Mother Teresa to various confessors is due out next week. Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, is already fueling many blogs and other on-line commentaries, the writers of whom are attempting, from quotes already published in Time, to use Mother Teresa to support their deep, solid, and impenetrable beliefs.
In her letters, Mother Teresa expresses doubt- in her faith, in her calling, and in God. “Where is my Faith,” she writes in a confessional letter to Jesus, “ — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness and darkness — My God — how painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith.”
To a friend and confidant she wrote, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”
Fundamentalist Christians are weighing in already, pointing out that the Roman Catholic Teresa was trying to worship a “false” Jesus, a non-biblical Jesus, according to their strict standards of biblical literalism. Hers was a Jesus, they say, which was false to begin with- a caricature perpetuated by a Church bent on survival.
Some atheists have already begun to claim Teresa as a secret supporter of their position of non-deistic rationality. Some have already called her a hypocrite, giving lip service to belief, while harboring doubt.
Both groups are making the kind of mistake that is easy to make when the world is viewed in the mechanistic manner both groups base their viewpoints on. Most fundamentalists see the universe as a machine, manufactured piece by piece, by God, for the benefit of humankind; and many atheists see the universe as random collection of stellar accidents, devoid of transcendent and sacred meaning beyond the moment.
Mother Teresa, on the other hand, lived down in the mire with the rest of us. She lived where the call to alleviate suffering in the lives of others felt so real that she could ascribe the voice of Jesus to it. But she worked in the arenas of life where it seemed impossible for a God of love to have ever been present.
“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?”
Hers was not an either/or position. Her doubts did not rise from the rigid and moribund philosophies constructed of doctrine and paper and words etched in rock, that both the accusing fundamentalists and the Teresa-claiming atheists live their lives within.* She was human, a human filled with doubts just like the rest of us, but one who had the courage and vulnerability to write of them. Unlike many of us, however, she poured herself into that “emptiness” anyway. She didn’t flee from it; she didn’t reject it. She alleviated suffering. She waged peace. She acted in human, healing love, as her Order still does.
Mother Teresa may well have felt ignored by God. But, because of her, many many have not.
*For the record, I am speaking here of those fundamentalists and those atheists who are making the Teresa-noise at present. The strident ones of both camps are making fools of themselves (I think) and do not reflect those fundamentalists who truly do try to follow Jesus, nor those atheists (and there are many, many) who couldn’t care less about adding new trophy heads to their walls, but just live- congenially and rationally.