Mother Teresa's courage
Feeling the absence of God doesn't disprove God's presence.
Though much has been made of the doubts and spiritual emptiness mentioned in her diaries, I wish I could have spent time with Mother Teresa. Accompanying her on her rounds would have been a great privilege – to learn how she strove to see Christ in the faces of the poor and destitute; to learn to love them without fear; to glimpse how she kept persisting in her work year after year, despite the intensity of her inner struggle. Not that she would have confided her struggle. Her personal papers were published against her wishes.
Those who have walked their faith a long time know firsthand the isolation, doubt, and fear that can creep in. The world of materialism can seem a harsh mockery of living a life of the Spirit.
If I could have shared a word of encouragement with Mother Teresa, it would have been this: The feeling of God's absence does not disprove the reality of God's presence. It's what my closest friends and mentors have shared with me during times when God has felt faraway. Just as the sun doesn't stop shining when obscured by clouds, so God can't be displaced by the intensity of feelings that deny Him.
This is the foundation of people of Spirit: that just as they don't rely on their eyes and ears to see God, so we can't rely on human feelings. The fickleness of human emotion offers a framework that is just too unreliable for assessing things as important as the reality of God.
It is God who gives us the desire to experience the reality of spiritual truth. The God who is Love doesn't give us holy desires in order to frustrate us. When we don't feel the uplift we expect through our daily devotions, we can add to our devotions the discipline of appreciating each evidence of good that testifies to the Principle of all-good.
When a verse from Scripture comes to mind, or when a friend shares a spiritual insight spontaneously without knowing we need it, we can recognize these instances as examples of God with us.
As a Christian Scientist, I see despair and darkness, and anything that opposes a life committed to Spirit, as the aggressive impression that matter is the only substance of life. This comes not only from one's own experience of living in this world, but also from the public thought around us.
Mary Baker Eddy knew firsthand that struggle in discovering Christian Science, founding her church, and establishing this newspaper. But she also knew its peace: "Christianity is not superfluous. Its redemptive power is seen in sore trials, self-denials, and crucifixions of the flesh. But these come to the rescue of mortals, to admonish them, and plant the feet steadfastly in Christ. As we rise above the seeming mists of sense, we behold more clearly that all the heart's homage belongs to God" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," p. 107).
Right when we feel alienated from Spirit, our seeking is actually moving us into a deeper relationship with the spiritual substance of life. As we become less dependent on the human mind and material senses for our information, it is easier to turn away from anything that denies God. Instead of being overwhelmed by the viciousness of evil, we each have an indwelling faculty that honors and responds to every inspired thought, pure motive, and fresh idea for action.
Desmond Tutu, the master at preserving and inspiring religious faith in the middle of apartheid, said, "At times of despair, we must learn to see with new eyes" ("Believe: The Words and Inspiration of Archbishop Desmond Tutu"). God, the source of life, endows us with the eyes that see His goodness.
Romans 8:16, 17