Saturday, August 25, 2007

Mother Teresa: Doubts of a Saint

If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? --Cormac McCarthy's Judge Holden in Blood Meridian
I first came to Blood Meridian, at a time when the doubts in my own soul were at their darkest. Actually, I misspoke. I came to that book at a time when doubt had yielded to darker certainty. That, as much as anything, drew me to McCarthy. By the time I got to The Crossing, and the heretic of Caborca, it was as though I was reading about myself.
It was never that this man ceased to believe in God. No. It was rather that he came to believe terrible things of Him. --The Crossing p. 149

It has been a long slow recovery from certainty to the more optimistic condition of mere doubt.

So it was with some sense of kinship (make no mistake--I'm well aware that I am no saint) that I read today's news about the darkness which haunted Mother Teresa.

It began, she said, soon after she set up her Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta in the late 1940s to succor India’s poor. And it lasted, with only a joyous five-week respite in 1959 when she refound God, until her death at age 87, a decade ago.

“There is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work,’” she wrote in 1953.

What is one to do, then, laboring under such a burden? Where find some solace? If we are to judge from the life of Mother Teresa, there is something to be said for doing what one can for others. I understand that drive too. In 1982, smarting from the disintegration of a marriage, the brevity of which set a standard that Britney Spears only barely surpassed, I decided that the best way to move my focus from my own pathetic self-pity was to volunteer for a community crisis hotline in the small town where I bought my first house. It worked. I heard things, and talked people through things, that pretty quickly reminded me that my life was pretty damned good, all-in-all.

Which brings me to my questions for today: how does one one-up a mere hotline? How resist the urge to call down the lightning as does Ahab, haunted by equally dark certainties? How strike through the mask, and at what? Where does one find answers to the questions Suttree asks? That McCarthy asks through Suttree?

It cracked and boomed about and he pointed out the darkened heart within him and cried for light. If there be any art in the weathers of this earth. Or char these bones to coal. If you can, if you can. A blackened rag in the rain.

He sat with his back to a tree and watched the storm move on over the city. Am I a monster, are there monsters in me? --Suttree, p. 366

Where seek the confidence to answer in the affirmative the boy's question in The Road, "Are we still the good guys?" Where?

And in the meantime, while we seek?

Hard weather, says the old man. So may it be. Wrap me in the weathers of the earth, I will be hard and hard. My face will turn rain like the stones. --Suttree, p. 29