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In Sweet Company

” Having a personal relationship with [ God ] doesn’t mean you have to give up everything. But it does mean you must take more control over what you do with your life.” — Sri Daya Mata,  IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE

If you’ve read MOTHER TERESA: COME BE MY LIGHT, you know it’s a thought-provoking collection of letters written by Mother Teresa of Calcutta that reveals her 50 year crisis of faith. That she who prevailed upon the world to minister to those devoid of consolation should herself experience profound inner desolation is astonishing. As her personal suffering became public, we discovered there was more to admire about her than “simply” her outer good works.

What inspires me about her disclosure is that Mother Teresa, like the women I interviewed for IN SWEET COMPANY, found ways to live with her disquietude. In spite of a ” … silence and emptiness [that] is so great, that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear, the tongue moves but does not speak,” she put one sandaled foot in front of the other and lived her life for others — and with gratitude. In so doing, she elevated the old adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” to that of living truth.

Though her trials were experienced by mystics and saints down through the ages, what makes her revelation even more compelling is that she was our contemporary. Her name, her face, her words were “routine.” We saw her in the midst of her trial yet knew nothing of what she was experiencing.

That she committed her feelings to paper helps us to know we are, indeed, in very good company. When we question our place on a planet at war with itself we can remember, not just her example, but what her example actually looked like. When we are denied what is dear to us, when our hopes and dreams go awry, when we doubt ourselves, our fates and our gods, we can think of her and take heart. When we feel “not good enough,” when we want to assign blame, to fault some thing or some one, we can think her and take heart. When we want to abandon what is right and good because it is difficult, when encouragement or reward is withheld and our deprivation goes on and on and on, we can think of her and take heart.

The unified field of our common experience nurtures and expands our individual efforts. We grow smarter and braver and more capable because we are more alike than we are different. Rather than feel diminished by what we don’t have or don’t feel, we can learn — as Mother Teresa did — to seek the hidden presence of Goodness. We, too, can use what is absent from our lives to “make our hearts grow fonder” — and feel grateful.

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