Thursday, November 03, 2011
Reading Mother Teresa--XXI
According to the editor of her letters and diaries, Brian Kolodiejchuk, Mother Teresa believed that in obeying her superiors in the Sisters of Loreto, she was, in fact, obeying Jesus, "in submitting to their commands, she was submitting to Christ himself," is the way he puts it.
Wow. That's a life I can't imagine.
There's something undeniably saint-like about that commitment, but something slavish too. If the simple obedience--can I say "blind obedience"?--to one's superiors is the portal to sainthood, then I've not yet come blazingly through that door.
I can't imagine it was easy to believe that. Then again, maybe it was easy to believe, just hard to live. That's not an altogether human problem either.
But somehow it makes sense that Mother Teresa would believe what she did. If you're going want to be the bride of Christ, if you're going to commit, via oath, to live for him always, every second of the day--no time off, no Expedia getaways--then it seems to me at least as if some kind of infrastructure to that commitmentt is essential.
I mean, no human being ever believed that they were one with Jesus, 24/7, you think? Even David the King often found himself abandoned--see Psalm 13, the "howling" psalm. I hate to be skeptical, but my guess is no one on the face of the earth ever claimed to have God's voice in his heart and soul all the time, as if Jesus were the iPod in his shirt pocket.
It just doesn't happen. Jonathan Edwards, the great revivalist Calvinist, claims long, anguished moments of silence in his "Personal Narrative." Emerson tried to lift anyone who'd hear him into moments of revelation, but he certainly didn't stay there himself (read "Experience" sometime). Even Edgar Allen Poe wanted his bizarre verse to lift us, at least for a moment, from our rotten, stinking world.
Abraham Kuyper's most famous devotional work, To Be Near Unto God, is all about helping his loyal followers find their way, at least, to glimpses of glory. Glimpses.
No one I know would say that Christ's voice is always within them. But then, I'm not Pentecostal either. Maybe if I were. . .
What I'm saying is that it's somehow understandable that someone like Mother Teresa, someone as committed to God's near physical presence in her life, would determine that the way to get there, even and maybe especially through the silences, is by believing that the words of the boss, her Mother Superior, were always, in fact, the words of the Master.
I've failed badly on that one. But that's a story for another time.
Here's what I'm thinking. We're wired with desire, all of us, for God. That g has to be lower case, as in Poe's case; but human beings share an undeniable spiritual aspiration. Mother Teresa, who is without a doubt a saint, stifled whatever doubts she had (and they were considerable) by believing that whatever Mother Superior said was the gospel. When her superior spoke, it was really God (upper case). What was required from her, in response, was, of course, obedience.
That was the way she could at least temporarily satisfy her own urgent need for God, and she believed it therefore: the boss speaks for God.
I'm not so sure. But there's no doubt in my mind--and soul--that I too want God. As hard as it is for an old Calvinist like me to admit it, I think we all do.
Of course, we're all sinners too, as, I'm sure, Mother Teresa herself would have said and did often confess. Aspiration doesn't make us saints.
In fact, our undeniable sin may well be part of the reason we want God. How does Paul put it?--"all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Maybe that's what it is that makes all of want to get there: we can't.
Only by his doing. Only by grace.
I'm sure she believed that too.