Mother Teresa and Pastors (part 2)

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Well, more time has passed than I intended since my last blog—though folks continue to follow the last one on the second service. Nice discussion. Thanks, all.

A few weeks ago I commented on the issues of obedience, accountability and patience that Mother Teresa articulated in her posthumously published Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta,” (Doubleday, 2007).  A sad event in our community has occasioned this very continuation of the theme of “Mother Teresa and Pastors.” Only about a decade into her vocation as nun, Mother Teresa began to suffer what she described—among many variations—as “darkness” and the “absence of God.” To state it very briefly, that darkness and absence of God more than anything else constituted the greatest suffering Mother Teresa could imagine.

Yet, after some years, she came to this stunning conclusion—which is not, I understand, unique to her among Christian mystics: “If there is hell—this must be one. How terrible it is to be without God—no prayer—no faith—no love…. And yet, Father [Joseph Neuner—a confidante] I want to be faithful to him…. Do you realize that when you accept the vows [of a nun] you must accept the same fate as Jesus? (pages 250, 251).

I ran stuck on these words during this past week, because I have been meeting with young adults who have as a group experienced the sense of abandonment by God.

A week ago last night a good friend of theirs took his own life. He had intermittently expressed his own sense of abandonment by God—perhaps partly due to terrible sufferings in his own young life that were beyond his control: abandonment by parents, loss of a brother five years ago to suicide also.

The 19 and 20 year-olds whom I met several times over the last week were asking themselves questions remarkably like Mother Teresa’s: “Isn’t this loss of our friend and his own suicide like hell?”

This coming Tuesday I’m planning to preach on Psalm 22 at this young man’s funeral. Jesus quoted this psalm during his own abandonment on the cross. The writer of Psalm 22, though, moved through grand spiritual dynamics ranging from despair to glimmer of light, back to despair, back to light and hope. Jesus himself lived that dynamic, not just on the cross, but in his entire life and through his resurrection.

For pastors: Where does suffering like Mother Teresa’s and those young people fit into the pastoral life? How do you experience darkness, absence of God? How do you deal with it, when you are called to lead people TO God? Are you despairing and hopeful in equal, intermittent measure? And your own questions and comments.

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I sure hope you share with us your experience of preaching this psalm, and what happened in you and in those at the funeral.  This situation is SO full of anguish.