Sunday, March 9, 2008

Come Be My Light

I have begun reading the controversial book about Mother Teresa’s struggles, Come Be My Light (Doubleday, 2007). The author, Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, sets her private writings in their historical, religious, and biographical context. His description of the mystical tradition of interior darkness, especially as described by the sixteenth-century saint John of the Cross, is both accurate and troubling. Here are some excerpts about “the painful purifications one undergoes before reaching union with God”:

They are accomplished in two phases: the “night of the senses” and the “night of the spirit.” In the first night one is freed from attachment to sensory satisfactions and drawn into the prayer of contemplation....

Having passed through the first night, one may then be led by God into the “night of the spirit,” to be purged from the deepest roots of one’s imperfections. A state of extreme aridity accompanies this purification, and one feels rejected and abandoned by God. The experience can become so intense that one feels as if heading toward eternal perdition....Prayer is difficult, almost impossible; spiritual counsel practically of no avail; and various exterior trials may add to this pain. By means of this painful purification, the disciple is led to total detachment from all created things and to a lofty degree of union with Christ, becoming a fit instrument in His hands and serving Him purely and disinterestedly. (22–23)

I find it hard to reconcile this kind of mysticism with an incarnate God who is the source and redeemer of “created things.” But perhaps I am misreading “total detachment.”

Mother Teresa did not try to escape created things. She did not reject the physical world in favor of spiritual experience. Her lifelong ministry to the poorest of the poor plunged her into more physical reality than most of us could bear.

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