Sunday, September 4, 2016

Loneliness as Poverty

Speaking in 1975 about the many people who are unwanted and forgotten, Mother Teresa, who was made a saint officially today, stated, "Love them. Loneliness is the greatest poverty."  She knew of what she spoke.

News accounts of the darkness she experienced often register surprise, that someone so close to God, so holy, could have been depressed, lonely.  Yet how could she not be?

First, surrounded daily by dire poverty, hunger, neglect, and an uncaring world--and by the duties of running a large community of women. Then the isolation she must have experienced as the mother superior, with no one to confide in, no intimate friendship to relieve the burden of constant work.

Can we love God if we have no human love in our lives? That is a question someone like Mother Teresa must have dealt with.

So naturally, worn out emotionally, she turned in her prayer life and often found, apparently, an emptiness, a dark night of the soul; this, for the great mystics, is often a prelude to light, the negative way leading to the positive way. That is, the sense that God is absent and unknowable and distant is the first step in finding, through contemplation, the opposite: a sense of the presence of a loving God.

This process is found in the late poetry of T. S. Eliot, who was widely read in the mystical tradition of Christianity, and many others, including Thomas Merton, have discussed these states of the soul.

Part of the process surely is emotional, the feeling of being alone and unloved: even though many people admire you and praise you, do they know you?  Do they listen to your innermost self?  St. Teresa of Kolakata, as she now is, had a confessor and used her personal writing to express a poverty greater than material want: the feeling of being unloved.

Surely part of her greatness, as with many other saints, is that she suffered inwardly, feeling, like Jesus on the cross, abandoned by God, and unable to pray, even to believe for a time. Ultimately, it seems in the end to have brought her closer to God.

Knowing about this darkness makes Mother Teresa all the more human.

No comments: