My friend Don Morrow has referred me to a book review of Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, a compilation of letters mostly to her confessors over a sixty year period.
You can read the review here.
What caught my eye was that these letters show a different side of Mother Teresa than the Nobel-Prize-winning, holy woman portrayed to the world. Some quotes from the review:
"...In a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. "Jesus has a very special love for you," she assured Van der Peet. "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."
Are you slogging through the vocations of your life? Is that happy Christian smile drooping just a little, when no one is looking? Do people NOT know you are a Christian by your love? Does sin cling to you like an old show tune that just won't go away?
"That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated. Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the "dryness," "darkness," "loneliness" and "torture" she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. "The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were [there], you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'"Luther says, somewhere, that when a pagan looks inside herself, she sees glory, the goodness of her being. When a Christian looks within, he sees his sin. It is this dual condition we find ourselves in, of continuing and even deepening awareness of our own inadequacies and at the same time the outward promise of Christ's forgiveness and love found in scripture, that seems to have pervaded Teresa's life. It was all the more profound because, at what she believed to be Christ's call, she rejected the things in life that would have made it more comfortable, and instead lived "as the poor among the poor" inCalcutta.
"The more I want him — the less I am wanted," she wrote Périer in 1955. A year later she sounded desolate: "Such deep longing for God — and ... repulsed — empty — no faith — no love — no zeal. — [The saving of] Souls holds no attraction — Heaven means nothing — pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything."What value for us is a book like this? For one thing, it is a stark reminder that seeking after religous experience does not necessarily lead to genuine religious experience. And genuine religious experience? It may be characterized more by loneliness, disaffection, and deep longing than by happy, clappy, emotional joy. If this describes your spiritual journey, well then. You seem to be in good company.