The Common Good

Mother Teresa's Advent Light

When I went to check my post office box after Thanksgiving, among the pile of mail waiting for me were review copies of Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great about Christianity and Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.

I first picked up D'Souza's bestseller. Throughout this book, he seems to possessed an amazing self-confidence that all the world's problems could be solved if only we would just become Christians. It reminded me of those books I read in my twenties back when I thought I knew all the answers. It's only been within the past few years that I've learned to start asking the right questions.

Yet, I have to admit that a side of me wished that I still possessed that absolute certainty about my faith. This year hasn't been an easy one for me on many fronts. In fact, I don't know where I'd be without my spiritual friends, who sometimes prayed on my behalf when I was too distracted to think straight.

When I picked up Come by My Light, I discovered a stark honesty that caught me off guard. Mother Teresa was not the woman the world thought we knew. As Shane Claiborne noted when I interviewed him for The Wittenburg Door, whenever people ask him about his trip to Calcutta, "they say, 'Oh, you met Mother Teresa,' like she glows in the dark or something."

While rest of the world put her on a pious pedestal, this seemingly simple nun from Calcutta spent most of her ministry wandering in the wilderness. She pours out her personal pain in private letters that she penned to her spiritual director and others in her life. These letters indicate that ever since she began her ministry to the poor, the voice of Jesus that guided her to start this work became silent. This silence continued throughout her entire ministry. She describes the darkness with a piercing honesty that brought me to tears.

Pray for me - for within me everything is icy cold - it is only that blind faith that carries me through for in reality to me all is darkness. As long as our Lord has all the pleasure - I really do not count.

As expected, atheists like Christopher Hitchens use her personal pain as further evidence that God does not exist. Hitchens gloats, "She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person."

Unlike this anti-God guru, Mother Teresa knew that just because God was absent from her heart, that didn't mean God had abandoned her. With a Job-like sense of determination, she learned to embrace this darkness as a part of her ministry.

Let Him do with me whatever He wants, as He wants, for as long as He wants. If my darkness is to light some soul - even if it be nothing to nobody - I am perfectly happy - to be God's flower of the field.

Just as I'm about to finish this book, Shane Claiborne just happened to arrive in New York City on the first Sunday of Advent. (For a recap of that visit, see "What Would Jesus Buy?") I'm not about to call him a saint because I know he'd just start to giggle and throw paper airplanes at me. This ordinary radical relayed stories of finding hope and healing through his work with those spiritual souls that society has discarded. I couldn't have asked for a better Advent candle to help illuminate my darkness.

During my interview with Shane, he remarked:

Someone asked me after she died, 'Is her work going to live on?' I actually think Mother Teresa died a long time ago when she submitted herself to Christ, and the thing that everyone loves about her was her work, that's Jesus. That's going to live forever. I've been to Calcutta since Mother Teresa died, and there were more people there than were ever there when she was alive. She's sort of like the seed that dies, and fruit is born.

For those who find themselves struggling in the darkness during this Advent season, I highly recommend reflecting on Mother Teresa's words. Through her prayers of pain, I pray that you can be reminded that you are not alone.

Becky Garrison's books include The New Atheist Crusaders and their Unholy Grail: Their Misguided Quest to Destroy Your Faith (Thomas Nelson, January 2008), Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church, and Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church.

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