2007-09-05 / Editorial

Marshall Singletary

MOTHER TERESA'S DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

There is no place as dark as the "dark night of the soul." For those who have chosen to follow the spiritual path, it is the darkest

and most lonely part of the journey. For many, there are extended "dark nights" along the way. Christians who experience this lonely place report feelings of abandonment by God, the absence of joy, difficulty in prayer and temptation toward spiritual apathy.

The apt and vivid description of this most difficult of spiritual trials comes from a poem and commentary entitled: "The Dark Night of the Soul." Since its publication by the Spanish

poet and Carmelite priest, St. John of the

Cross (1542-1591), the phrase has been used to describe a syndrome of spiritual malaise ranging from a transient feeling of the "blues" to deep unrelenting feelings of abandonment and separation.

In an era when the most popular televangelists are proclaiming what is called the Gospel of Health, Wealth, and Prosperity, we hear very little about the daily struggles of people of faith.

The impression is given that a confession of struggle or any condition that is less than bliss and success displays a lack of faith. It seems to be working well for most of those doing the proclaiming! They, at least, seem rather healthy, wealthy and prosperous. Success and the absence of deep trials seem to be their test of faith.

Mother Teresa is admired and respected by both Protestants and Roman Catholics. She was the recipient of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in relieving the suffering among India's poorest and most miserable. She founded the Missionaries of Charity and was also listed as one of the ten most influential Christians of the Twentieth Century by Church History Today.

Her confession that she was not the embodiment of bliss and spiritual happiness came as a surprise to most who admired her. In letters to her friends and confessors, she stated that she had experienced a painful loss of God's reality. Her sense of abandonment was remarkable in its duration, covering more than fifty years. Strangely, her "dark night of the soul," began when she accepted Christ's call to minister to India's poorest of the poor.

Many in the church world and the news media have seemed dismayed by her recently published letters. In these letters, she tells of her struggle to experience God's presence and affirmation once again.

Instead, she labored through more than fifty years of spiritual darkness. She stands accused by some in the church world. From the perspective of their theology, her faith was lacking. She also stands accused by some outside the church world. Christopher Hitchens, one of the more popular atheists writing today, has expressed a barely disguised glee in learning of her struggle. In his opinion, Mother Teresa was a hypocrite and probably a secret atheist herself.

Others of us read of her struggle and nod our heads in understanding. We are grateful for her confession. We are comforted in knowing another has groped through the "dark night" yet remained faithful to the task God gave them. The test of faith is not success and the absence of deep trials. Apparently, the test of faith is faithfulness.

On September 5, 1997, Mother Teresa stepped out of the darkness and into the Light.

We too stumble along. Wherever our pathway leads, may we be as faithful as she.

You can reach Marshall K. Singletary at P. O. Box 420, Waynesboro, GA 30830, by phone at 706-554-2188 or via e-mail: msingletary@wfumc.org.

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