Reading Teresa

There was a time when mention of Mother Teresa made me think of the famous cinnamon bun at Bongo Java. I knew about her work in Calcutta, but I wasn't particularly interested in her as a person. Every now and then snippets of her spiritual insight came across my desk, two-liners with her name attached to them; but, like I said, I wasn't too interested in her as a person.

A couple of days ago, during a prayer service, a friend mentioned that apparently for decades Teresa had known Christ only as 'the Absent One', that she had prayed and worked without a sense of God's presence. We talked briefly about what we mean when we say 'God' or what kinds of knowledge or certainty go with 'knowing God,' and we talked about prayer and silence.

I read the article in TIME magazine, and I didn't quite know what to make of it. She had shared her struggle with spiritual advisers, in conversations I would consider confidential. At least once she even asked that all her letters or anything she had ever written be destroyed, but as a prospective saint (or perhaps even as a nun under the vow of obedience) she could not claim rights of privacy most of us take for granted.

I am deeply moved by the way she integrated the profound and painful absence of God into her faith by embracing it as part of her sharing in the suffering of Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:34 "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). At the same time, I find it appalling how a bunch of men - from Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk who edited and published her letters and writings, to several other priests who had spoken with her over the years, and all the way to Christopher Hitchens - read and interpret Teresa to turn her either into a saint of the church or, for lack of a better term, atheism's poster child. What appalls me is the violence of such interpretive work that turns a human life into a symbol; perhaps it is unavoidable for individuals who lead such public lives.

I'm not ready to add my voice to that choir of male explainers.

Perhaps I will read the book.

I find myself wondering how much my prayer life depends on a sense of God’s presence, on feeling that the Lord is near. I can’t say it does; the knowledge of God involves my thinking as well as my emotional faculties, my remembering and hoping, my serving and giving, but it doens’t depend on any one of them. For me, knowing God is rooted in trusting, and trusting integrates all the other ways of being in the world and relating to others.