Monday, November 01, 2010

All Saints

It is November 1st. All Saints Day, for those who follow the church calendar.

This weekend I went for my annual fall retreat at St. Columba. (The photos are from a past visit there.)

Yesterday I looked for a hymn for today and found one that immediately became a favorite. It's "Who are these like stars appearing?"

Who are these like stars appearing,
these, before God's throne who stand?
Each a golden crown is wearing;
who are all this glorious band?
Alleluia! Hark, they sing,
praising loud their heavenly King.

It has quite a lot of such glorious descriptions of the saints around the throne. But what made it a favorite is the fourth verse:

These are they whose hearts were riven,
sore with woe and anguish tried,
who in prayer full oft have striven
with the God they glorified;
now, their painful conflict o'er,
God has bid them weep no more.

God knows I've done my share of striving with Him, of having my heart torn apart (riven), and while I sometimes dare to hope the worst of it may be behind me, it's hard to believe it's over at this point in life.

While on retreat I also read over half of Come, Be My Light, the account of Mother Teresa's spiritual struggles as shared largely in letters to her spiritual directors. Her story certainly fits the image of striving with God even while glorifying Him, about a thousand times more than mine.

I have a hard time reading her story, and stories of other people of faith, because as I read them, a part of my mind is almost continually hearing a critical voice, the voice of an imaginary psychologist, I suppose, who attempts to explain everything away with some kind of diagnosis, or at least to show that the people living these lives had unrealistic or perhaps "neurotic," as the word is still used, thinking and emotional experiences.

And you have to wonder, would Mother Teresa have suffered so much if she just hadn't believed in God so much?

And almost certainly the answer is no, she would not have. You could say she brought on the suffering because of her belief system and the crazy choice it led her to make with her life. (She did fear greatly at the beginning that people would call her crazy for doing what she felt called to do.)

The problem with that critical psychologizing voice, however, is that she and many others have had such spiritual experiences, and many have suffered in their faith, and yet their thinking and behavior in all other respects cannot be shown to be aberrant, unrealistic, or neurotic. In fact, their thinking and living were (and are, for those still living) much healthier thinking and living than that of people with more "realistic" ways of looking at life. Mother Teresa functioned extremely well, under extremely difficult circumstances that would break most people emotionally, if not physically and mentally.

In fact, it's people like her--and many others, like my friends who have just moved to a remote region of India where he will travel to even more remote places to give medical care to people who would not get it otherwise--who fly in the face of my inner psychologizing voice which sometimes mimics the ideas of skeptics who insist that belief in God is a way of comforting ourselves, of making life easier, of not having to face the hard realities of life.

The people I know who truly believe in God live harder lives than just about anyone else, and they do it by choice, not by chance.

And so, Mother Teresa strove with God even as she glorified Him in her relentless commitment to love others, no matter what she felt, or didn't feel, and couldn't feel, inside.

And I trust (because, despite my inner psychologist critic, I'm one of those people who share her basic belief system) that one day we will see her, and she will appear like a star--a real star, not the kind of people we call "stars" in our crazy, neurotic, unhealthy world.

He will be her Light, as He was all along, even though she experienced such darkness.

And her tears will have been wiped away at last, forever.


DoOrDoNot said...

Those are some lovely photos of St. Columba!

I may need to read this book of Mother Theresa's letters. At the end of the day, despite what one makes of her inner life, it is hard not to be touched by a disciplined life of service. If anything speaks to me of God's love, it is in the witness of the lives of others. And I put your life in that category.

Sheila said...

DoOrDoNot, thank you for that encouragement! Sometimes life seems to make so little sense, and often I wonder where I fit into it all. But if somehow my life, with its ups and downs and all arounds, can speak of God's love, in its little way, then I can be thankful and persevere.

Like a Child said...

I found your blog by way of DoOrDoNot. Loved this post. I'd like to read more about Mother Theresa as well one day!