Charita Goshay: Mother Teresa's humanity should inspire us

Charita Goshay

The recent revelation that the late Mother Teresa, of all people, suffered prolonged periods of spiritual darkness and doubt should not be viewed as a disappointment, but rather, a relief.

A new book, “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light,” showcases letters written by the little Albanian nun who devoted her life to the untouchables of Calcutta, India; letters that frequently express pain and bewilderment at what seems to be God’s absence, even bitterness.

Valley of doubt

Though she has been fast-tracked to sainthood, some of the letters seem to suggest that in her fleeting moments, even Mother Teresa may have doubted God’s very existence.

In a world that at times seems to have gone mad, it’s not an unreasonable notion. There are times when it feels as if God has stepped out of the room, when you want to ask, “Um, you did just see what happened, right?”

You wonder if a loving, kind and compassionate God is really sitting by passively while your church is firebombed, or when a Hitler burns through Europe, or as Sudanese are being systematically murdered, or when the dogs of disbelief nip away at your soul.

The idea that people of great faith might wrestle with doubt is nothing new.

Following his imprisonment, John the Baptist wondered aloud whether he got it wrong, asking if Jesus was the real deal, or just another self-deluded holy Joe in a parade of Bible-thumpers.

Only human

Though we know that people of great faith are only human, they still tend to intimidate us. It does not seem possible they could ever be as greedy or lazy as we, or that they would entertain some of our tainted thoughts, which, as Samuel Johnson noted, “would shame hell.”

Most of us can’t fathom spending an hour in a nursing home let alone emerging from a prison with a forgiving heart like Nelson Mandela, or eschewing nonviolence, like Gandhi, or turning our backs on our own lives to serve diseased and dying strangers in some dank, forgotten corner of the world.

Rather than being inspired by their examples, their attributes frequently have the opposite effect, making us even more acutely aware of our shortcomings, and causing us to shrink back, rather than take up their mantles.

Mother Teresa’s letters may help to dismantle the intractable notion that believing in God somehow results in an automatic grant of immunity from loneliness or tragedy or failure. This God-as-slot-machine mind-set can be seen in all its garish worst in the United States, where the unspoken assumption persists that God loves us better than the rest of the world, and that poverty, tsunamis or some uncured sickness is some sort of cosmic payback, not the result of simply being a struggling, flawed human being living in a wildly unpredictable world.

It’s comforting to know that people who walk with God don’t do so on water, but more often while stumbling through the desert.

Just like the rest of us.

Reach Canton Repository writer Charita Goshay at (330) 580-8313 or e-mail: charita.goshay@cantonrep.com