Saturday, August 25, 2007

Mother Teresa's lost faith

Mother Teresa's letters-- in which she apparently confides that she had no sense of God's presence, no feeling of faith or consolation, no assurance of the reality of God or heaven or the human soul--are about to be published. I had heard previously that this was the case for her, but it seems that the length and depth of this "dark night" is a bit of a shock to almost everyone.

It is not to me. And I think it is real evidence that she is a saint, by which I mean an enlightened person, one who has actually reached union with God, or spiritual marriage as it is called in the Catholic tradition. Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa, and most familiar to me, Saint Therese of Lisieux, all felt this emptiness and silence. Buddhists would understand it better, perhaps, as the end of the ego and of the sense of separation between one's self and what one understands as God.

I think that the great secret of mystical experiences is that at the end, there is a great emptiness. Images of God, voices of God, are all delusions and idols. God as one has imagined Him simply no longer exists. He has been entirely internalized. So the double-mindedness is over. The ability to have an internal dialogue with this Other is gone. Both Saint Teresa and Saint Therese talk about prayer turning into simply silence, resting on some inchoate sense of God. But finally, even that sense evaporates. Then there is no inner Other, nor any sense of an outer God in Heaven. There is only One. All the drama and fireworks is over. There's no push or pull, no ought or should. No Law. No sin. No guilt.

Faith is not meant to be eternal. Nor is hope. Only Love endures. But with no sense of the Presence of this Other, there is no One to love or to be loved by. One must simply act from love. If one's theology insists that this is a defect, then this state will be experienced as painful, as it apparently was in Mother Teresa's case. But I think it's painful because the endpoint of mystical prayer has been covered over in the western tradition. Those who reach it think they have gone astray, and they keep silence to avoid scandalizing or harming others.

Perhaps it is the providence of God that Mother Teresa's letters were not only not destroyed, as she intended, but are being published for all to see.

The truth is: The Son of Man is the Son of God, and there is no Other. There is no God to be found anywhere else but in one's own self and in the wounded selves of others. Jesus knew that and viscerally experienced it on the cross when he found Himself forsaken. The Law, the Prophets, and even faith itself are only means to this burned out but open-hearted end.

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