Understanding Mother Teresa

A crisis of faith.  Can it be called such a thing when one has no faith?  Can one have a crisis of faith in humanity, or is that what life is about?  Maybe we put our faith in god because it is much more difficult -much more vulnerable – to put our faith in each other.  Just look at what we do to each other; how easily we cause the suffering of others – and perhaps more grave – how easily we dismiss those who are suffering as unimportant, unworthy, and unnecessary within our own existance.  Twain was right.  We are the Lower Animals.

I understand the Buddhist idea that we are the cause of our own suffering, but I don’t think detachment is the key.  Doing no harm is a good start, though.  Feeling another’s suffering and wanting to end it as you would want to end your own, as Jesus said, it a more valuable approach to the world overall, even if it causes you pain.  My crisis, as it were, is in merging the two – feeling the pain of my students and being able to detach from it enough to help end it (though being able to cut through more red tape would certainly alleviate some of the distress).

But even surrounded by people, this is a lonely life.  I cannot begin to imagine the strength Mother Teresa had, but I understand the intense need to believe that there is something more than the myriad of indolent and  incompetent souls refusing to reach out to those in need, yet proclaiming all the while that they believe in the One True God and follow his every word.  Did she ever just want to scream out, “Fools!  Hypocrites!  Liars!  What theology matters when the world lies in ruin at our feet and our brothers and sisters suffer before our very eyes?  What good is it to fight over who is right when god already knows?  Why waste time and resources on death and destruction when all that has ever been asked of us is that we love one another?”  I imagine her shaking her head in disgust and frustration, only to continue her work.  Thank you, Mother Teresa, for telling us that a crisis of faith is allowed even in the best of women.


6 Responses to “Understanding Mother Teresa”

  1. March 20, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    My son subscribes to The Mennonites (magazine) as he’s a peacenik. ;o) They recently had an interesting article on Mother Teresa in their Feb. 5 edition. I had no idea (until then) that she went through that for 50 YEARS!

  2. 2 unitedwelay1
    March 26, 2008 at 6:59 am

    I have a better understanding now. I have dedicated a lot of my life to service, even the work I get paid to do, and somehow, it seems feeling inadequate is just part of the job. It’s good to know that others have felt that way, even those who are saintly!

  3. March 28, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    I think I understand and consider her crisis of faith the strongest possible evidence that her faith was authentic.

  4. 4 paulbogan
    March 29, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    Call me silly, but I think if you don’t have moments of doubt in your practice–regardless of whether you’re a Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, what-have-you–you’re probably not doing it right. Spiritual practice, regardless of the labels we place on it, has to involve the whole person; if the mind isn’t engaged as much as the heart, you’re missing half the picture. Of course, once you start thinking on these things, and asking questions, then you’re going to have plenty of questions, and plenty of doubts. I tend to agree with TomCat that the depth of her doubts speaks to the depth of her practice.

    The way I’ve always looked at it, if my beliefs can’t stand up to my own questioning, how are they going to stand up to the much larger issues and questions that life throws in my direction? That’s led to some doubts, certainly, but it’s enriched my practice and my life, at the same time.

    I don’t think that Buddhism is necessarily about detachment from your suffering, or from much of anything else in life. It’s more about non-attachment, and realizing that nothing in life–including life itself–is permanent. And that’s a good thing, if you think about it, because even though on one hand it means your happiness is transitory, so too is your sorrow. Engaging your suffering, and especially other people’s, is as useful in practice as it is good. I think that Mother Theresa, like Jesus, the Buddha, and countless others, have realized that; more importantly, they acted upon that realization.

  5. 5 unitedwelay1
    March 31, 2008 at 6:59 am

    I guess that means that somewhere deep inside, I still have faith in the ability of people to recover from their current apathy towards each other and do somethign decent with their lives.

    Excellent thoughts! Thanks for adding tot he discussion and giving me somethign to think about while I go into my crazy day!

  6. April 15, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    I think we go through a crisis of faith simply because of the nature of faith: it is not dependant on what we see, hear or feel. When things are most dark, when we are most alone and at our greatest level of discomfort, we still can have faith. However, this is also a time when nothing gives us any emotional, psychic or mental satisfaction; people whom we have trusted have let us down, the things we do that are so important seem to matter little or have no effect at all. In all this loneliness, we can still have faith.

    Mother Teresa is a hero of faith, and she is not alone. UWL, you may consider reading John of the Cross, who was betrayed by his own religious order, and thrown into solitary confinement in a cold dank room and kept there for over a year. It is during this darkest time of his life when he wrote one the greatest spiritual classics of all time: The “Dark Night of the Soul” in his book Ascent of Mount Carmel. It is not meant to be skimmed; you may want to take a stanza at a time and just think about it.

    Hope all is well.


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I am not perfect. I do my best to practice what I preach, but I am human. My mantra is, "DO NO HARM". I may not always succeed, but I will always try. My goal is to be a better person today than I was yesterday.

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