Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mother Theresa

Last night I followed our dogs into a moonlit backyard, feeling like Mother Theresa.

Not the mother saint. God no. Not that side of her.

I mean Mother Theresa, saint of doubt, who for fifty years stepped out under her own Calcutta moon, strained her old eyes to see God in its light, but found the light too thin. Found only rock. Craters.

"If there be God," she prayed in those times, "please forgive me."

This morning Ms. V, my thin, frail, elderly friend, and the closest person to Saint Mother Theresa I have ever known, lies unconscious in the city ICU. Yesterday, a mentally-ill homeless woman -- one of ten thousand she has helped in her life -- tried to kill her. Left her unconscious, shattered bones in her face, bleeding in her brain.

We're not sure why. We're not sure what will come of this.

"If there be God," Theresa prayed from her Dark Night, "please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul" (Mother Theresa: Come Be My Light, 2007).

I am no Mother Theresa -- not even in my doubt. God, seeing my weakness, spoon feeds me the smallest rare doses of Mystery.

Not so for Theresa. For fifty years she felt no divine presence in her life: not in her work; not at the Table. That's quite an exile for one of God's most faithful. Even wayward Israel was only in the desert for forty.

"How painful is this unknown pain," she continued, "I have no faith."

Yes you do, Mother. Otherwise, it wouldn't hurt.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Matthew 19:13-24, or, The Child Becomes a Young Man

My grandmother loves telling this story. The story is of a kid, maybe 5 years old. In real life the kid might have been my father.

In this story, the kid has a few toys. Not many, but probably enough.

One day the kid is taken over to a friend's house to play. This friend has toys. Rooms full of toys. Trucks and trains. Soldiers. Lincoln logs. And for as long as the boy is there, the toys are his, too.

With that thought heavy on his mind, the young king surveys his new domain. At the sight of all the toys, he is beside himself. Awestruck. Tharned.

For a long while, the young king who might've been my dad simply can't move. What toy to play with first? How can he possibly choose just one, and fall to the dire sin of neglecting so many others? Could God ever forgive him?

The odds seem fearfully low.

And so the boy that might have been my father hatches, at last, a plan. First, with the force of sheer will, he shakes himself free of the spell; turns from stone to boy again. Open armed, he sweeps across the room. He will pick them all.

He will love them all. No Lone Ranger mask will go unworn. No Howdy Doody left unventriloquized.

And yet, six steps in, his plan is not going well. His arms are hardly big enough for Howdy Doody alone, much less anybody else. And so he manages, only painfully, to gather another four or five toys. One cowboy and Indian each, he reasons, might just propagate themselves later. But what about the baseball? The bat? He snatches a tin horse by its hoof. It remains in his custody, precariously at best.


The boy who might have been my father starts to cry. At first a choke. Perhaps a hiccup. And then the White Silence before, at last, the levy breaks. For a long while, the kid lies victim to uncontrollable sobs, unable to say what, by now, is practically redundant anyway.

"I can't hold anymore," he moans. What's worse, he knows that the dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of toys he's left behind aren't the final dour report on his failed responsibility. Even the horse and Howdy Doody remain unloved. At best, the're just ... held. And not a Velveteen Rabbit sort of "held". More like Abu Ghraib.

The boy, once again, is beside himself, but this time without his initial joy. He is unsure which curse to ascribe to himself: Either the toys are too big, or his arms are too small. In either case, God is cruel.


Even then, perhaps, the boy had an inkling of a third possibility. A third curse that, in fact, might haunt him and his progeny for years to come.

The little boy's prayer is almost proof that the thought did cross his mind.

Grandma has never mentioned it -- has always just let me read between the lines. I know he prayed it, though, right there and then. I can even see a glow from heaven cast askance upon his ruddy, tear-stained cheeks.

"Lord, it'd be a bitch to sell all these toys. Amen."