More Thoughts on Mother Theresa's Darkness

John ArmstrongSpirituality

I continue to ponder the report, and my own comments as well as those comments of many who responded, to the recent information about the late Mother Theresa going many decades with little or no felt awareness of the presence of God in her heart. In thinking about this question I have gone back to the desert, to the desert fathers of the third and fourth centuries of early Christianity. I believe these desert fathers and mothers have something to say to us about this matter that is almost completely lost on us modern affluent Christians.

Within us all is a voice that says, "I want, I want, I want . . . " This voice is the enemy of our real peace. If we sit still and truly listen then the fact of our death will come to us with clarity and spiritual reality. Attention to this inner voice, or the sense of God or of his absence, will lead us to experience our own fragility and futility. We will then know that we really are creatures, not the Creator. When this happens we will be confronted with the emptiness that lies deep inside of all of us. This is what the ancients spoke about when they wrote of "the dark night of the soul" or "the cloud of unknowing," both concepts that evangelicals misunderstand or reject. Both should rather be understood as the ways the Church has tried to talk about this universal human experience of emptiness.

Here is the point. For the Christian this emptiness, this inner sense of God’s absence, is actually what should become the dwelling place of God within our inner being. This realization that we are truly empty is meant to open us up to revelation and to the shock of who we really are and how we must face death, our final enemy. Says Alan Jones, "The angel of death taps us on the shoulder from time to time to shock us out of our tiny and prejudiced view of things. We need such visitations to shatter our parochial perspective."

My parochial perspective is far deeper than I realize. I sense that the absence I have known is meant to awaken me and shock me. By the grace of God I pray more frequently now that it is having that impact in me.