“Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends?” That’s the opening verse of this week’s Old Testament reading. As if to provide us with an example of just how obscure the mind of God can be, Jesus offers this insight in today’s gospel concerning discipleship: “If any one comes to me without hating his mother and father, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even his own self, he cannot be my disciple.”
Nice. There’s another condition besides discipleship that could be defined the same way. Mental illness.
“What exactly do you want from me?” This is a question I often ask Christ during my own prayer. I don’t really get an answer, more of a sense that I’m moving deeper into something that seems to be increasingly consuming all that I am – or at least, all that I think I am. I sure hope that it’s discipleship and not mental illness!
I took great comfort from the book that came out based on Mother Teresa’s private correspondence. If you have not read the book, I really urge any spiritual seeker to do so. It’s an extraordinary story. The way I read it, Mother Teresa had NO inclination to found a new religious order. Yet Jesus was relentless, driving her forward despite enormous odds to get the Missionaries of Charity off of the ground. And when she did – when all of her hard work and faith and compassion for the poor began to result in wildly successful accomplishments, what happened? Did Jesus give Mother T a nice pat on the back? Maybe offer her a hot cup of Darjeeling tea? No. He said nothing.
For forty years!
Don’t get me wrong, and you’ll see this if you read the book. Her love for the poor was genuine and never wavered. The joy that she exhibited to the world was real. But she lived with an ever present absence, something like the experience of someone who’s husband or wife goes missing in action in a war, of her beloved Jesus.
Now, there’s a woman who had a right to kevtch, it seems to me. But she never did. Beneath her pain seems to have been an acceptance.
One of the great insights the people of Israel have given to the rest of us is found in books like the book of Wisdom. While God is always present, this does not necessarily mean we can experience God’s presence directly. In fact, as Mother Teresa’s case seems to demonstrate, drawing closer in relationship to Christ can actually feel like an overwhelming absence. Perhaps because we lack the capacity in our human nature to make sense of an intimacy that powerful.
Jesus’ challenge in today’s gospel gives rise to a question for me: Am I willing to embrace a radical loneliness as the fruit of a relationship with Christ?
Isn’t that a crazy thought? What do you think?
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)
(If you want to read my book length reflections on the Bible, you can find them at www.twentythirdpublications.com)