Thursday, August 23, 2007

Service, Sacrifice, and Scars

Today I ran across an amazing article about Mother Teresa talking about a new book entitled Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. It is a collection of previously unreleased correspondence between her and her confessors and superiors over 66 years. What it reveals is that one of the icons of Christian service, of service to thousands of "the least of these" in the slums of Calcutta, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner nevertheless endured a spiritual desert, no sense of the presence of God, for over fifty years. I can't do the article justice (and it is no doubt copyrighted anyway) so read the article for yourselves.

I have three initial reactions to the article.

First, I am struck by how much we rely on surface clues about a person's wellbeing and how tortured and spiritually lost even those we think of as godly, even holy, are. If that is the case, how many wounds does your average person-in-the-pew (or in the pulpit!) hide, gloss over, or simply ignore? I shudder to think how many walking wounded are in our midst including, if truth be told, myself. That sense of one being taken, blessed, broken, and given to the world as the bread of the Eucharist is, seems a more powerful metaphor than I previously grasped. Perhaps that is what Jesus knew when he commanded us to pray for our enemies: that they were broken and wounded and needed our prayers perhaps even more than our friends!

Second, with all of the correspondence with confessors and others in the church, why, literally for God's sake, didn't someone see this spiritual desolation and seek to help alleviate it? What an irony that a woman who brought hope to the world and to so many who were hopeless was herself spiritually adrift! I can't tell much from the article, but it appears that while some reassurances were given her, Mother Teresa worked tirelessly for a Savior whose touch she had not felt in her soul for over five decades while the church stood by watching. Was her work so valuable that piercing that veil of holiness and sacrificial love was deemed too great a cost? I ask myself, is she a saint because she persevered in service without a "sign" from God or is she an example of someone who gives themselves so much to others that she can't bear to receive consolation and solace from others? I don't know. What I do know is that God wrapped her in God's arms a decade ago and said "well done, good and faithful servant." Of that I am sure.

Finally, I am confronted with the stark reality that even someone like Mother Teresa, by all accounts a model of servant ministry if ever there was one, had neither an easy nor secure relationship with God. Oddly enough, it gives me some comfort that if others can serve God effectively with such impediments, my own humble attempts at a stable and fruitful spiritual life may at least suffice.

Be that as it may, as I count down the weeks remaining of my Sabbatical, I am struck anew by how much difference a strong spiritual foundation makes in one's ministry. More specifically, I am struck by how the strength of my own spiritual foundation relates directly to both my effectiveness and endurance in ministry. Making sure that foundation is strong and that my self-worth is rooted in God's love for me rather than the perceived day-to-day success or failure of my own efforts to faithfully shepherd the flock of St. Alban's will be a primary goal upon my return.

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