Until a 2007 book, only a handful of people knew Mother Teresa's secret darkness
I’ve been working on an article for Leadership Journal on three people who experienced and thought carefully about something like the classic “dark night of the soul”: C S Lewis, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther. But the whole article must fit into 2,500 words, and the section on Mother Teresa has gotten out of hand, clocking even now, in a fairly refined form, the whole 2,500. So I am posting it here before cutting it down:
Almost every Christian thinker who has commented on the experience of divine absence and spiritual desolation called by John of the Cross “the Dark Night of the Soul” has concluded that the experience must have some spiritual usefulness. That’s one of the things that shocked the world when, in 2007, we discovered through a posthumously published book that Mother Teresa of Calcutta had undergone a severe, intense dark night that persisted through almost her entire ministry life, right up until her death.
It didn’t seem to make sense. Here was a person who, if anyone could merit the title during her lifetime, was thought of by almost everyone who knew of her as an exemplary saint. With our theology of a relational God, we would expect Him to smile benevolently down on such a person, even previewing some of his “Well done, good and faithful servant” in His behavior toward her in this life. And yet here it was, this agonizing decades-long Absence that darkened her whole life and left her only briefly, on one occasion.
What on earth sort of usefulness could such dereliction have for a person such as Mother Teresa? The editor of her letters makes it clear that it was not a “thorn” to rescue her from some sort of overweening pride—she had begun the ministry of the Missionaries of Charity based on a youthful vow that she would do everything God asked, submitting herself absolutely to His will. She was little inclined to pride, as all around her testified. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Brian Kolodiejchuk, C S Lewis, dark night of the soul, health care, John of the Cross, Leadership Journal, leprosy, Martin Luther, Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa, the poor
Giotto's Franciscan allegory of poverty: Poverty is a winged gaunt woman dressed only in rags, at whom children throw stones or brandish sticks. Christ himself marries this woman to St Francis. Numerous angels, as well as the personifications of Hope and Chastity, are present as witnesses. As offerings, two angels carry worldly goods heavenwards. The reactions of the world are depicted at either side: on the left a young man imitates Francis, and on the right the rich express ridicule.
The most recent issue of neoconservative Acton Institute‘s organ, Religion & Liberty, brings an interesting interview with “paleoorthodox” pundit Thomas C. Oden. Actually it is an excerpt of the interview; other bits of interview, dealing with Marxist liberation theology and the current condition of Oden’s United Methodist Church, can be found here.
The excerpt printed in Religion & Liberty ranges from early Christian treatment of the poor to global South missionaries coming to the West. Here are some of Oden’s comments on the value of patristic exegesis for today’s Christians–in particular where such exegesis was applied to social issues:
Why do you think many evangelicals, in their searching, are drawn to patristic thought and commentary? What can churches do to encourage those that are searching?
They’re drawn to patristic thought because it is wise. They are hungry for wisdom. They are looking for reliable Christian teaching and, in many cases, evangelicals have not been exposed to these documents because they have been focused on Christian doctrine since the Reformation. Continue reading
This is a talk I put together from a number of sources for HS890: Resources for Radical Living, a Bethel Seminary DMin course, Jan 2011 [Key to sources provided at end of article]
SCHM: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me”: (Matthew 25:35-36). These words of Christ, along with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), the almsgiving practiced in many Hebrew synagogues, and the Old Testament precedent allowing the poor to glean fields, all made a profound impression on the minds of the early Christians, and they diligently sought to emulate these practices. (125)
SCHM: Tertullian (d. ca. 220), the Latin church father in northern Africa, informs us that the early Christians had a common fund to which they gave voluntarily, without any compulsion, on a given day of the month or whenever they wished to contribute (Apology 39). This fund supported widows,  the physically disabled, needy orphans, the sick, prisoners incarcerated for their Christian faith, and teachers requiring help; it provided burials for poor people and sometimes funds for the release of slaves. [Here are Tertullian’s exact words (from one of the Christian History Money issues: “Even if there is a chest of a sort, it is not made up of money paid in entrance-fees, as if religion were a matter of contract. Every man once a month brings some modest coin—or whenever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary offering. You might call them the trust funds of piety. For they are not spent upon banquets nor drinking-parties nor thankless eating-houses; but to feed the poor and to bury them, for boys and girls who lack property and parents, and then for slaves grown old and shipwrecked mariners; and any who may be in mines, islands, or prisons ….”] Continue reading
The following are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading Mark Galli’s Francis of Assisi and His World (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002). Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today and former managing editor of Christian History, did his homework well, and this little book, like Chesterton’s biography of Francis, is full of insights. Galli does tend to find “legalism” in medieval monasticism, and has cautioned evangelicals about their “romance of the cloister.” But his understanding of the sacrament of penance (see below) is more nuanced than that of most Protestants. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged asceticism, Francis of Assisi, Franciscans, friars, leprosy, Mark Galli, Middle Ages, miracles, poverty, sacrament of penance, the mendicants, the poor
This is the third in a series of posts on the Resources for Radical Living course(s) and book by Mark Van Steenwyk and me (Chris Armstrong). The first post presented the original version of the course. The second presented the revised structure of the course and book.
This third post presents the revised list of case studies.
Even more important, this post asks you, dear readers, to comment on these case studies and suggest any primary or secondary readings that you think will help Mark and me as we work on these new case studies and our students as they plunge into this challenging area of “radical Christian living.” Continue reading
Posted in Resources for Radical Living
Tagged African-American Christianity, base communities, Benedict of Nursia, Benedictines, Bethel Seminary, black church, Catholic Worker Movement, communal life, compassionate life, Daniel Berrigan, devoted life, Dorothy Day, Ernesto Cardenal, Francis of Assisi, Franciscans, John Chrysostom, John Wesley, liberation theology, Mark Van Steenwyk, Martin Luther King Jr., Methodism, pacifism, penitential life, Philip Berrigan, poverty, prophetic life, slavery, the poor, war, Wendell Berry
The following is a “progress report” on the famous Pietist renewal. It was published an appendix to a 1716 book by Pietist church reformer August Hermann Francke, Pietas Hallensis. It may be interesting and instructive to ask: are these the sorts of signs of spiritual and social renewal that we would get excited about today? How are we doing in these areas?
Part I of the book itself is a brief account of the “rise, occasion, and progress” of the Halle complex. The complex, in Halle, Germany, was dedicated to renewing society through Christian services offered in a hospital, schools, a printing house, and much more–see this post for an account of Francke’s life and the Halle complex. It starts with descriptions of each part of the complex, then relates instances of financial miracles (unexpected gifts) by which these works were sustained once Francke had committed himself in faith to undertaking them.
You may have heard of the orphanage of 19th-century German minister George Muller, which inspired the “faith missions” of many 19th-century missionaries (that is, missionary works with no visible means of financial support, sustained by prayer and the free-will gifts of “friends”). Halle was Muller’s pattern and inspiration.
Part II of Pietas Hallensis includes many more accounts of individual gifts, in the years 1707 and 1708, including the texts of many touching letters enclosed. The report on the Pietist renewal reproduced below comes from an appendix to part II, titled “Signs of the times since 1688.” The book was printed in 1716, so the period reported on stretches across roughly 28 years.
Here is the report (with a few comments interjected by me); I read the book and made these notes in a 1994 seminar on the Pietists given by Richard Lovelace at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachussets: Continue reading
The following is a brief summary and some reflections on the second of August Hermann Francke’s (1663 – 1727) Three Practical Discourses. I did this while in Dr. Richard Lovelace’s class on the Pietist renewal, in 1994 at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The edition I was looking at was (a copy of?) an edition printed in 1716; translated into English from the High-Dutch:
[If you want to jump right to "doing something about it," then you might be interested in Tyler Blanski's music project for the homeless]
2. OF CHARITY TO THE POOR
Twenty Four Motives to a faithful Discharge of the Duty of Bounty to the Poor
‘In those days, the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his Disciples unto him, and says unto them: I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat, etc.’
1. The unspeakable and incomprehensible love and mercy of God towards mankind.
‘There is no doubt, but whosoever does duly ponder this love with himself, and revolve it again and again in his mind, but his heart will be excited thereby to bestow a like love on his poor and indigent neighbour.’ (26) Continue reading