Through the dark
Kairos: Volume 18, Issue 19
“If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’”
– Blessed (Mother) Teresa of Kolkata
The world has trembled at the revelation that Mother Teresa, the ‘saint of the gutters,’ lived for most of her adult life in a state of radical unbelief. After Time Magazine published exclusive extracts from her letters and diaries, this paragon of self-abnegation and heroic virtue was transformed into an altogether more surprising Christian.
“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 and darkness – My God – how painful is this unknown pain – I have no Faith – I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart – and make me suffer untold agony.”
These jottings from an undated ‘address to Jesus’ reveal Mother Teresa’s spiritual life in all its terrible uncertainty. It is hardly the ecstatic communion more commonly associated with the saintly experience. Indeed, Teresa is here shown to have been a Christian without any sense of, or special attention from, Christ.
It gets worse.
“When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven – there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”
Teresa was cut off. She was dry. She sometimes claimed that she was ‘tortured’ and, in 1959, she concluded that she had been abandoned altogether.
“In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me – of God not being God – of God not existing.
Surely then, Teresa’s painful experiences express and personify the modern condition. For man, uprooted from the nourishing truths about human nature, increasingly finds himself flailing and alone.
A ‘daily grind’ made unbearable by the various nihilisms too often describes contemporary existence. Some people are enslaved by rampant materialism. Some serve various obsessions. Some seem stuck on cheap, often vulgar sex tics that they dress up in the arch language of ‘excess and perversion.’ Still others, a whole miserable army of the lost and lonely, seek solace from reality in drugs.
It seems people have stopped talking about happiness, fulfilment and joy.
We now more often speak of endurance, tolerance and, most hopelessly, of survival. We are all Camus’ strangers now. We are all in the gutter with Mother Teresa.
As a young man, I see evidence of this disconnect, this creeping nothing, all around. Our fallen idols, our Britney Spears, our Paris Hilton and our Owen Wilson, seem to self-destruct in effigy. When we, like Teresa, feel only knives and emptiness and hurt, a whole army of marketers, pop icons and academic enablers wheel out the creaking apparatus of despair to show us that nothing is where we came from, nothing is what we’re made for and nothing is where we’re headed.
Thank God, then, for saints like Teresa. Thank God for her perseverance in pain, her holding on through the darkness, her conviction that if Jesus would not come to her, she would do anything to go to Him.
She could have given up on God. She could have killed herself. She could have turned her inner knives outward and acted out on her turmoil and shame.
Instead, she united her sufferings, the sufferings of all men, with those of Christ on the Cross. She saw in Him, a God-Man who also felt abandoned by God, a great model for so much more than survival. She saw a pattern for peace:
“A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.”
Like Christ, Mother Teresa pointed the way to perfect community, a way of loving our mates in the gutter, our brothers and sisters in darkness and death:
“Speak tenderly to them. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don’t only give your care, but give your heart as well.”
With her extraordinary life, Mother Teresa undid the noose of modernity. She showed the way out of our
darkness and pain, praying:
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”