DCC News

 

Weekly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Dublin Community Church

 

January 18, 2008

                                                           

                                      

Paying Attention

Sometime in the past few months I have come across news articles about Mother Teresa and the publication of her personal writing. Over a period of 66 years the correspondence with her confessors and superiors was collected. Although she wanted the correspondence destroyed, her church overruled her and kept it and it has now been assembled in a book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.

I have no opinion on what her religious superiors choose to do with her personal correspondence. They have some sort of a policy and they have made their decision and published a book. And though I have not read the book, what I have read about it in the news media is that the book will cause some controversy (it already has) because Mother Teresa reveals in her writings, that “she spent almost 50 years without sensing the presence of God in her life.”

I have always admired the woman and her work and her devotion. I admire her even more today. And I say this because I and probably many, many others are struck by the notion that doing the work of the church and of God does indeed leave one in a desert at times. Granted, 50 years of working for God and 50 years of not sensing the presence of God is quite a long time. But, she stayed true to her calling; I am in awe of her dedication and faith.

But, there is something else here that I think gives the regular folks of the world, like you and me, reason to have hope in a world that often times does not foster hope. Let me explain.

I have always been wary of making bumper stickers a title for a sermon or political campaign. I struggle against those who sum up their entire religious theology or political philosophy in say, 6 words and make everything black and white and refuse to see the world in shades of gray. I live in the world of shades of gray. Nevertheless, I spotted one of my favorite bumper stickers in Berkeley some years back.

It said,

If you are not outraged,
you are not paying attention!

I have no idea what the bumper sticker is referring to. It could be anything, everything or nothing in particular. Any group on the left, right or middle could seize it for their own political, theological or philosophical outlook.

Don’t like the war? The bumper sticker would be appropriate. Don’t like the Democrats in Congress? The bumper sticker would be appropriate. Don’t like tree-huggers? Don’t like right-wing news correspondents? Don’t like your home church? Don’t like the football Buckeyes? Don’t like your neighborhood-watch association?

“If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.”

 

The phrase is an equal-opportunity offender and explanation, depending on your cause. It fits well in Berkeley or Upper Arlington or Tuscaloosa. When you put it on your bumper it implies that you and you only know the ills of the world and that you only, are paying close attention and that you only, are outraged….and that nobody else is paying attention and that they better start paying attention.

What does this have to do with Mother Teresa? It’s just that I have always held her up as a saint. Still do. But, what I could never understand is that as she worked day-to-day, year –to-year, decade-to-decade in such abject poverty and difficult conditions…how could she believe in a God who would continue to allow the poorest of the poor to remain the poorest of the poor? I guess, in my mind, I really wondered if Mother Teresa was paying attention…to her surroundings…to her world.

And now I find out that she felt the absence of God in her life. I could never figure out how someone could do the difficult work that she did and feel the loving presence of God in her life every year, every day, every hour. Turns out…she was not feeling that presence. And yet she labored on.

I figured if Mother Teresa was paying attention to the poverty around her, she should be outraged. She wasn’t outraged that I could see and so I figured she was not paying attention.

But, in the end, I (and the Roman Catholic Church) feel that her correspondence can be beneficial to us.

One of her mentors and editors says that we have lesson from her life. We all experience doubt and the existence of God, even Mother Teresa. It’s rather like Einstein doubting the validity of math or Vince Lombardi not believing in the supremacy of winning. I have doubts daily about all sorts of things in matters of faith. I figure it is a consequence of living in the real world, which can be so harsh. It gets pretty difficult sometimes to sing about “Sweet Jesus” and how happy I am to be loved by God. I read. I know of war and broken families and broken health. I pay attention and sometimes am outraged. Sometimes I am outraged at events and sometimes at God.

But now we learn of the interior life of Mother Teresa and find that she was fully human and continues to have a significant ministry not just to the economically poor, but also to “anyone who has experienced some doubt, some absence of God in their lives. Atheist, doubters, seekers, believers, everyone.” (Rev. James Martin, editor of the Jesuit magazine ‘America’)

She may have lost communication but she never lost faith and never lost the will to obey her true calling in her work.

It seems to me that it’s for certain that she was not outraged…it’s even more certain that she was paying attention.

Peace, Rev. Bob Tussing