". . .Do not, however, think that I am only suffering. Ah, no, I am laughing more than I am suffering--so that some have concluded that I am Jesus' spoiled bride, who lives with Jesus in Nazareth, far away from Calvary. . ."
I was brought up in the church, but I don't think I knew what Lent was until I was 30 years old, at least. What I thought I knew was that Lent was something baroque-ly Roman Catholic and thus hopelessly ritualistic. Things Roman Catholic bore little relation to me, after all. Not by a long shot. Four hundred years of Reformation history made that separation painfully clear. That's why my uncle warned against good Christians voting for Senator Kennedy, after all. Besides, my dad worked for Roman Catholics, and all they did was drink, cuss, and chase cheap women. Or so my kid mind construed.
Honestly, I don't think I'll ever develop a mind or psyche for what some call "the church calendar," but I do understand it, at least somewhat. It's Lent now, and the general idea is that I contemplate seriously the suffering of Christ, the Christ who, in the Catholic church, is ubiquitously hung on the crucifix.
Not me--I'm Protestant! My cross is empty!
Some of that ancient residue is so deeply laid inside me that I'll never quite kick it. The idea, right now, at Lent, is to perpetuate abiding sobriety--thus exist a whole host of calendar events like Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras itself, and "Carnival" in Brazil--one last blowout before getting down to some serious religious practice. I understand all of that, and I even like it a bit, even though, as I said, I'm probably long past programming my life by way of that level of ritual. Sadly, too much of me is Calvinist, methinks.
Sometimes I wish it weren't so.
But I rather like the way Mother Teresa says here she's maybe a bit too taken with Jesus of Nazareth and not taken sufficiently with Jesus of the Calvary, Jesus of the cross. I rather like it that some old sisterly crone must have said of the little lady-in-black that she was really too much of Jesus's own "spoiled bride." Maybe I've seen Sister Act too often, but I can imagine what might have happened: "That Sister Teresa laughs way too much," some old fat-face must have said, someone out of a Louise Erdrich novel. "She's just not serious."
Long ago, the very first President of the college where I've been for probably far too long told me that when he thought about his many long years as a preacher and the founding father of this very institution, his single regret was how long it took for him to learn this abiding truth--that a smile is most gracious opening to the human heart. It took him way too long, he said, to learn not to take himself all that seriously.
This from a man who cut his teeth locally by appearing in both Time and Life, way back in the late 40s, like a preaching, screeching Marshall Dillon, Dodge City's toughest sheriff, a lawman in a swallow-tail coat. There he was in front of a whole nation, having single-handedly held off the scum who were threatening to bring Hollywood's very Babylon right here to Sioux Center, Iowa, by putting up a movie theater--that's right, a theater, folks!--right here on Main Street (cue "76 Trombones").
No sir. He'd have none of that heathenish stuff, so there he was right in front of the pipe organ holding forth against worldliness in two of the nation's most-read magazines. And yet, he told me, his only regret, as an old man, was that it had taken him far too long to learn to laugh.
Somehow, enamored as I am with the image of Mother Teresa as a tiny woman who gave herself so unstintingly for the poor, it's difficult for me to imagine her as someone who literally fought off the plague of emotional darkness, the lonely sense that the God she thought she worshipped simply wasn't anywhere to be found. That's true, of course. She did.
But it's just as hard to think of Mother Teresa as a clown, the "spoiled bride of Christ," who loved her Jesus of Nazareth just as much, or more, than the Jesus of Calvary.
Still, I'm glad, at times, she was "that little, goofy Sister Teresa."
I know--I know. It's lent. I shouldn't giggle. I can't help it--I like that image too.