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Mother Teresa's Very Long Dark Night of the Soul and Rose Gardens

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In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and acclaimed world wide for her work among the poor, outcasts, diseased and cripples in Calcutta, yet she wrote, "Where is my faith?...Even deep down ... there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. ... If there be God -- please forgive me."

In the just released, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, a compilation of her letters to friends, superiors and confessors, the world now knows she still had doubts about her faith when she died in 1997 at the age of 87.

Most all theologians agree that the opposite of faith is not doubt; but fear!

Mother Teresa had her doubts, but she was a fearless advocate and compassionate tireless caregiver who did unto the the least among us, what she would do unto God.

The Dark Night of the Soul describes a possible phase in a person's spiritual life and is a metaphor to describe the experience of loneliness and desolation that can occur during spiritual growth. The phrase "Dark Night of the Soul" is taken from the writings of Roman Catholic mystic and poet, Saint John of the Cross, a Spanish Carmelite priest of the 16th century, who was influenced by Teresa of Avilla, who influenced Mother Teresa.

During the Spanish Inquisitions of the 16th century, political controversy of the reforms Teresa and John proposed led to John's imprisonment for 9 months in a closet, and he was let out only three times a week for meals. John was also whipped for refusing to recant his views. One of his jailers provided pen and paper so that John could write down the poems he had been composing in his head. In the ninth month of his captivity, a seemingly miraculous jail break occurred when he scaled the walls and then found refuge with nearby nuns.

John of the Cross is known as one of the Mystic Doctor's of the Catholic Church for his poetry and commentary about solitary/contemplative prayer. He wrote about the maturing of the spirit and soul which can lead to aridity, misery, depression and a sense of spiritual abandonment, all in order to purify the soul in preparation for divine union with God.

The Dark Night of the Soul, written in 1619, is an arduous read and account of the passive purification of the ego and action of God upon a willing soul. John and Mother Teresa both experienced intense misery, despair and the sense of abandonment that is produced by the action of God in order to empty the soul in preparation for Divine union. The dark night makes room for the complete transformation of a person's way of defining his/her self and their relationship to God.

When Jesus said, "You must be born again."[John 3:7] he was talking about a transformation of heart, soul and mind that would lead to one seeing the Divine within all beings and all of creation.   

Mother Teresa said her work with the poor and outcasts was possible because she saw the face of Jesus in everyone. Her 're-birth' happened, so perhaps her dryness, doubt and darkness were to keep her humble and maybe to deliver a message to 21st century Christians?

In the Christian tradition, the "dark night" can occur in anyone who has developed a strong prayer life and consistent devotion to God. The trauma they experience when their traditional form of prayer become difficult and unrewarding, are akin to the abandonment Jesus expressed as he was dying on the cross when he quoted Psalm 22:1, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Matthew 27: 46

An individual experiencing the dark night of the soul will feel as though God has suddenly abandoned them, but in the spiritual realm, the dark night is believed by mystics to be a blessing in disguise; a refining and the ultimate testing of one's faith.

The spiritual journey lasts a lifetime and is all about change; awakening and evolving from an infant into a spiritually mature being. What many Christians refer to as their "born again" experience tends to be an emotional moment and often can be the very end of their maturation. Believing one has arrived, that one has been 'saved' neglect's St. Paul's warning "to continue to work out your salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." -Philippians 2:12-13

The Hebrew prophet Micah illuminated, "What does God require? He has told you o'man! Be just, be merciful, and walk humbly with your Lord." -Micah 6:8

To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 3: 1-2; brothers and sisters, you are not yet spiritual, but mere infants in Christ. You have been fed with milk, not solid food, for you are still not ready for it.

Perhaps Mother Teresa's confessions of doubt in the midst of her perseverance and compassionate mercy to the least among us will lead to the spiritual growth for many, "because at times the enkindling of love in the spirit grows greater, the yearnings for God become so great in the soul that the very bones seem to be dried up by this thirst, and the natural powers to be fading away, and their warmth and strength to be perishing through the intensity of the thirst of love, for the soul feels that this thirst of love is a living thirst."- St. John of the Cross

Jesus promised that "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."-Matthew 5:6

But he never promised the spiritual life would be a walk in a rose garden.


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Eileen Fleming,is a Citizen of CONSCIENCE for US House of Representatives 2012 Founder of Staff Member of, A Feature Correspondent for Producer "30 Minutes with Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu" (more...)
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