Sunday, August 07, 2011
Reading Mother Teresa--XVII
We baptized our firstborn, our daughter, in Arizona, where we lived at the time, a thousand miles from either grandparent; so an old retired preacher and his wife told us they would be there and take the traditional grandparents' role, which meant, among other things, Mrs. Verduin said, taking the baby out should she get fussy. Rev. and Mrs. Leonard Verduin were "snowbirds" we came to meet and love, and their participation in our daughter's baptism was something I will never forget.
Verduin was born and reared in a tiny Dutch-American colony right there on the Rosebud Reservation, and I'll always remember the stories he used to tell about that childhood out there in all that open land among the Brule Sioux.
But then, there are lots of things I won't forget about Rev. Leonard Verduin, and maybe most basic because most useful to me was his singular insistence that the real, honest-to-God truth is never circular, that is, it never has just one center. Instead, it's always elliptical--it always has two centers, never one. For instance, Jesus Christ was both God and man. How is that possible? I don't know--it just is, or it isn't true at all. Or this: freedom of speech means I can write anything I want; well, not just anything. If I publicly sling slimy river mud at someone and it's a downright lie, then my writing what I did is a bloody, muddy sin, if not a crime. There is no such thing as total freedom of speech here or anywhere; even freedom has limits. Thus, my old friend would say, truth always has two centers.
I thought of Verduin this morning when reading Mother Teresa, who confesses her own exhaustion on the streets of Calcutta. "It does not go easily when one has to be on one's feet from morning until evening," she tells her mentor and friend in a letter. "But still, everything is for Jesus," she writes; "so like that everything is beautiful, even though it is difficult."
That seems paradox, "a seemingly true statement or group of statements that lead to a contradiction or a situation which seems to defy logic or intuition." What's beautiful is what's difficult.
But then, maybe it isn't paradox at all. After all, I don't think I was raised to think it might be. When I was a kid, we used to sing, "I'd rather have Jesus than silver and gold" and a host of other things that promised joy from suffering or beauty in tribulation. Seems to me the only extended sermon we have recorded of Christ's is the one that offers a tablet full of such promises: "blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful. . . "
Why do I think it's paradox? Maybe because I'm a veteran of a gadzillion ads--on print and screen and wherever else--always, always, always promise something else altogether. And all those ads have changed me to believe to believe in skin cream and Caribbean cruises and the glories of twin-bathtub cialis.
And I've believed it? Is that why?
How can anything be both difficult and beautiful?
Maybe, this morning, that I see her claim as paradox is a mark of how far I've strayed from the truth I learned as a child.
Really, what she says is nothing more than biblical truth.
I'm the one full of mud. Shine on me, Lord. Shine on me.