I couldn’t ride my bike on Sunday.
My people were Sabittarians, big-time Sabittarians, a word my spell checker doesn’t recognize. What I mean is, I had a list as long as my arm of things I couldn’t do on the Sabbath. We were orthodox Jews in wooden shoes, although we nailed down the first day of the week, not the last.
I don’t regret my powerfully religious childhood. It may well have been well, strenuously spiritual, but that’s okay. Besides, most people my age—Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Church of Christ—had their own firmly established principles of right and wrong, a code—often only understood—by which they, as believers, defined themselves. Once upon a time, fences were built by just about everybody.
Many reasons exist to explain why my people were strict on Sunday (my mother-in-law couldn’t use a scissors), piety being just one of them; but another, I think, was identity. Maintaining Sabbath purity separated us even from other Christians and allowed a good heavy dose of assurance about who we were in a polyglot world where you couldn’t count on your neighbor having a pocket full of peppermints.
Pious codes sustain identity—I know who you are if I understand how you spend your Sundays. But to know thyself, as honorable as that is (saith Socrates) also implies knowing who isn’t you—and knowing (tsk, tsk) what isn’t, well, proper. Impropriety creates guilt.
Guilt, Garrison Keillor says, is the gift that goes on giving, and I’m as much an unhappy recipient as anyone. Up until this summer, I was the only member of my family who went to two Sunday services, even though we were all raised that way. I’ve now decided, sort of, that enough is enough. Sound impressive?—come six, Sunday night, I’ll be hiding somewhere, not from others, but from some thorny guilt.
More confession: I feel guilty when I read what Mother Teresa told the Archbishop in a letter, begging him to allow her to create the mission that Christ himself, she told him, had commanded her to do. “I have been longing to be all for Jesus and to make other souls—especially Indian, come and love Him fervently,” she wrote, “—to identify myself with Indian girls completely, and so love Him as He has never been loved before (emphasis mine).”
Isn’t that something? “So love Him as He has never been loved before.” Talk about mission impossible. If I honestly didn’t believe her a saint, I’d think that line sinful posturing, wouldn’t you? Rhetoric. Talk, talk, talk. How can anyone really believe that he or she will attain a level of love for Jesus that no one—NO ONE!—in the history of God's green earth has ever reached?
I don’t envy her. I don’t think I’d ever, ever say anything like that, and yet I believe that in life and in death, in body and soul I belong to Jesus. Okay, I feel a species of guilt scratching at my throat when I read that line because it’s something I’d simply never ever considered—that my love for Jesus might possibly be the greatest of all time. I’ve never aspired to become the Champion of the World in love for Christ.
But she did, and, I believe, she did so purely.
Here and there her writings suggest what she was made of, and how what she was made of nurtured her into what she became. Right here is one such moment. The pledge she sets for herself is just far beyond reason: to so love Him “as He has never been loved before.”
Yet, I don’t doubt her. Okay, I doubt myself most everyday, maybe especially on Sunday nights; but I don’t doubt her.