Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Mother Teresa’s Faith

posted by xscot mcknight

This Time magazine article, with a few other variants around the world, briefly describes the struggles of Mother Teresa with her faith — for a long, long time. All we have are some excerpts, set in a little bit of context. I’m looking forward to reading the book when it arrives before making any kind of evaluation. (I’m a bit nervous about these kinds of reports.)



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Scott Watson

posted August 25, 2007 at 1:01 am


If anything this speaks in favor of her beatification. This is the stuff of true saints, not the undifferentiated hero figures we accociate with “sainthood” in much of our popular culture,even popular Christian culture. This is the archetype of the Jesus saint,the One who wrestled with YHWH,his father in the Garden of Gethsemene and cried out “Eloi,Eloi, Lama Sabachthani” from the cross. God have mercy on our feeble faith!



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Peggy

posted August 25, 2007 at 1:27 am


Fascinating article…mysterious experience. Words fail except: perseverence.



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Shane Trammel

posted August 25, 2007 at 3:05 am


You can read my take on this topic here if you like. As a Christian, my desire, like that of Jesus, is that all come to a saving knowledge of Him. Was that the case with Mother Teresa, well, only God really knows. However, I think we can come to some possible conclusion. I discuss that here
http://blog.shanetrammel.com/2007/08/24/mother-teresas-crisis-of-faith/



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tim

posted August 25, 2007 at 4:47 am


wasnt it mother theresa who said i am not out to convert anyone. i just want to make a muslim a better muslim, a hindu a better hindu and a christian a better christian?



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Paul

posted August 25, 2007 at 4:47 am


First Things had a wonderful article on Mother Teresa several years ago. She was an inspiration to me before I read this. I never looked at her the same again afterwards. Her ‘dark night’ has been as great a reminder of God’s presence especially in His absence. Please read Carol Zaleski’s article: http://tinyurl.com/yrp3n7



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Diane

posted August 25, 2007 at 5:54 am


Scot,
Good article but like you I want to read the book.
I wonder if God gave us Mother Teresa as the perfect antidote to our times. We’re so obsessed with feelings and self and here we are faced with woman who gave herself selflessly, out of duty, not feeling. She enacted love instead of feeling it, and she gave it to others rather than focusing on finding it for herself. She shines a light on love as action. She is the essence of missional.



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Diane

posted August 25, 2007 at 5:57 am


However, I also ache for her. And I can’t help but wonder about the burden of celibacy, though I see through the lens of this culture …



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Sarah Chia

posted August 25, 2007 at 7:24 am


Thanks for sharing that article.
On the one hand, I feel deeply sorrowful for Mother Teresa, the same way I would share in the sorrows of any of my sisters.
On another hand, I feel relieved that this information is out, showing that even the most revered and respected Christians still struggle with the war that sin wages on us.
On yet another hand, I’m saddened that authentic stories like this still don’t serve to show the Truth of God to those who have their hearts hardened. To the atheist quoted, this is just more proof that trust in God is ridiculous.
I’m looking forward to the book.



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Ruth Tucker

posted August 25, 2007 at 8:04 am


I agree with Scot that we need more than the TIME article before we make any definitive statements, but I couldn’t resist posting on this story. I include the following quotes from Mother Teresa that apparently were typical of her 50 year struggle to believe: “there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling . . . there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness. . . . What do I labour for? If there be no God — there can be no soul — if there is no Soul then Jesus— You also are not true.”
I go on to write: “Atheists, of course, have pounced on these letters as proof that even the most spiritual saint can’t really believe in God. But that is not the message we should take away. This book will reveal that there is a deep Christian spirituality that includes doubt and darkness and unbelief.”
The post is here.
I hope this book introduces many people to a different perspective on spirituality–one in which they are utterly unfamiliar. Last night we had a friend for dinner–a very lively open-minded conversationalist. But when I showed her the TIME article and gave a bit of a summary, she immediately responded: “That was dishonest of her to continue being a nun” when she had such massive doubts and such a “dark night” of the soul: “she should have quit being a nun.” I totally disagree. If this book is what the article suggests it will be, I think it will become a spiritual classic. And I think these letters revealing her doubts will become her greatest legacy.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted August 25, 2007 at 8:28 am


Yes, fascinating article. I agree with much in the comments. Maybe apart from the dearth in feelings, she would have not been led to think and act as she did. I wonder sometimes about Paul’s words concerning Timothy, that he had no one else like him who took a genuine interest in their welfare, since all seek their own interests, not those of Christ (Php 2, I think). I don’t know how all of this unravels.
I do think we need a spirituality that is not so tied to feelings yet at the same time feelings are a barometer of something deeper going on. But what is really being indicated or worked out by God, how are we to always know or say with certainty?
Why also I think we have to be those who more and more put our faith in the naked word of God so that we are less and less prone to be moved by anything else. And yet God works with us where we’re at as humans. Enough of this thinking out loud….



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tdmoore

posted August 25, 2007 at 9:19 am


I wonder if its not a natural or common reaction to have such doubts and struggles when constantly facing the extreme poverty and suffering of others? I’ve never struggled with doubts like I did after stepping into the orphanage where I met my son.



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RJS

posted August 25, 2007 at 9:53 am


Many issues come to mind reading this article – and Ruth Tucker’s book “Walking Away From Faith”, which I finished last night.
The first is that humans are complex and conflicted creatures – caricatures and synopses never do justice, becoming lies in the process.
Second – Mother Teresa’s church provided a mechanism for ongoing confession, dialogue, and community – even in the dark night of the soul. This mechanism is absent in the church of my experience. Pat answers, get over it, grow up, if you have faith enough, don’t tempt me, move on, be happy, … Where is our community?



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Phil

posted August 25, 2007 at 10:13 am


When I read the TIME article on Mother Teresa, I came away with the impression that for 50 years or so she had no sense of God’s presence, no feeling whatsoever of God’s love or provision for her and her life. She had only an intellectual will to serve and believe, but sensed no returning movement from God. That sounds like a living hell to me. I hope the complete book sheds some light of grace and hope in the middle of what appears to be a very sad story.



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Julie

posted August 25, 2007 at 10:17 am


Scot, if I may ask, what makes you nervous about these kinds of reports?



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Julie

posted August 25, 2007 at 10:23 am


I suppose my question (building off of Phil’s post) is: is the spiritual life supposed to be built on precepts absent experiences?
On the one hand, when someone expresses intellectual doubts, experience is often brought up as the antidote- we know God because God has made Godself evident through experience (answers to prayer, a sense of peace passing understanding, a deep-seated relief through forgiveness, warm rushes through the body, hope after hopelessness, a sense of “another’s” presence in your life). Yet what happens when someone sincerely does not ever have those “experiences” that they interpret as coming from God?
And worse, what happens when you have a combination of intellectual doubt AND a lack of experiences you can attribute to God? On what basis does one continue in faith?
Any thoughts?



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Scott Watson

posted August 25, 2007 at 10:35 am


#8 Sarah-
On yet another hand, I’m saddened that authentic stories like this still don’t serve to show the Truth of God to those who have their hearts hardened. To the atheist quoted, this is just more proof that trust in God is ridiculous.
For those with “hardened hearts” nothing will commend the “Truth of God” except an act of God; for this is a matter of volition. Likewise,nothing but an act of the God teh Holy Spirit in a humbled heart will allow some Christians to expands their conception of the True and Living God to include pure faith as direct result of the withdrawal of divine consolation as a great gift. A gift which only a few are granted because of their devotion and faith. It’s a sign of sainthood and God’s favor. It should elicit not pity but be understood as a sign of the God who is with us in Jesus,who suffered on the Cross. If we cannot understand this type of grace, can only mean that our God is not sufficiently Christian This God is the god of the disciple who ran tried to stop Jesus from going to the Cross and abandoned him by denying him when he’s arrested.I fear the God we often worship is the god of success,power, persuasion. It’s no wonder that Greco-Roman pagans poured scorn on Christians who worshipped a crucified Messiah. How ridiculous!
The genius of Paul (ie, YHWH’s divine gift at work in him)is that he was granted the divine knowledge to see the truth of the cross and suffering of Jesus as the victory of God, manifested in the Resurrection.This was and is absolutely revolutionary,so much so that we fail to understand its implications. This is why Paul poured scorn on the “super apostles” with their triumphalist spirituality. They were not of Christ he tells us. Paul preached glory in weakness and everything that ran counter to that worlds understanding of god. I’m not so concerned about Mother Teresa,I’m more concerned about us if we cannot Christianly understand her life in light of Jesus Christ!It shows how shallow (and non-Christian)our theology and life actually is.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 25, 2007 at 11:03 am


Julie,
Very simple: they have culled very pointed comments out of a woman’s journals/letters and I’d like to see them in context before I run ahead to know what was going on. My first reaction: she’s a powerful example of faith because she pressed on when the Absence was her only Presence. That’s faith.



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Phil

posted August 25, 2007 at 11:18 am


Scot, or any others, I need some help here. I see many Christians on various blogs saying that the absence of any sense of presence of God in Mother Teresa’s life proves how great her faith was. As Scott (#16) wrote, the absence of God experienced by Mother Teresa should be viewed as: “pure faith as direct result of the withdrawal of divine consolation as a great gift. A gift which only a few are granted because of their devotion and faith. It’s a sign of sainthood and God’s favor. It should elicit not pity but be understood as a sign of the God who is with us in Jesus,who suffered on the Cross.”
Where in scripture do I find warrant for the belief that God denying me any sense of his love, grace, or working in my life is a sign of his special favor? We the church are the bride of Christ. What would we think of a husband who denied his wife all tangible and emotional demonstrations of his love for her for 50 years? Would we say that was a special sign of his favor and love for her?
I understand most if not all Christians go through dark nights of the soul. I’ve had them; they are agonizing. My only thought during those times are “please God let this end.” I really can’t imagine living the rest of my life in such a state. Perhaps that just demonstrates my weakness in faith. I’d appreciate some wisdom here.
Again, I’m hoping the complete book presents a picture more hopeful than that which TIME has given us in the article. If her life was as TIME suggests it, I feel like weeping for her. And, I pray God doesn’t do the same to me.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 25, 2007 at 11:24 am


Phil,
I don’t want to be pressed on this. I’d like to see her book before much can be said with any intelligence.



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Julie

posted August 25, 2007 at 11:54 am


My first reaction: she’s a powerful example of faith because she pressed on when the Absence was her only Presence. That’s faith.
I can see this… my husband said that he thought she demonstrated great courage, to put the work ahead of her personal despair. I’m still contemplating what it means about faith and on what faith is based, though.



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Tom Grosh

posted August 25, 2007 at 11:58 am


My father-in-law passed this piece along to me the other day and I posted the below thoughts on my blog:
Please destroy any letters or anything I have written.
— to Picachy, April 1959
Could Time and the Church have the integrity to respect Mother Theresa’s wishes? I’ve wondered about the release of journals and supervisor coorespondence after one’s death, possibly more difficult (or on the other hand financially advantageous) for those with family and children. What constitutes private, sacred dialogue? What personal, spiritual conversations does one have verbally and in written form when they may very well become public? One must burn one’s own materials, which some have done, and be willing to investigated to one’s honor and/or critique. Yet each person and institutional structure must take responsibility for their action. I chose to read the piece. While meditating upon it, I prayed for the Father’s Presence to be with me and enable me to follow Jesus every step of the way in all aspects of my life.
Related piece Blogging vs. Journaling
Note: I received the following as an email response from a friend, “Very interesting…about Mother Teresa’s journals and how one handles one’s own reflections/journals. I’ve heard convincing arguments for storing and for burning one’s journals. Each one has to decide which is best for them. I too, wonder about the blogging…can a person be as transparent and reflective on a blog…does a blog become an online journal???? What kind of relationship/s does a blog foster? More I could say…but not tonight.”



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Phil

posted August 25, 2007 at 12:21 pm


Scot (#19), fair enough. You’ve become a touchstone for me when traversing difficult spiritual and theological terrain. I appreciate your wisdom and scholarship, and will look forward to learning from you on this topic when we know more than what TIME has given us. Thank you.



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Julie

posted August 25, 2007 at 12:28 pm


Phil do you have an email or blog?



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A

posted August 25, 2007 at 12:42 pm


Musings
Intellectual Doubt
Absence of Community
Lack of Experience of God
Rampant Destructive Disunity in the Church
Failure to Practice the Message of the Gospel
Pain and Suffering Pervasive in the World
Give Me My Starbucks
Meaning?
Lord I Believe – Help Thou My Unbelief
Christ Crucified – And Risen
Buried With Him; Raised With Him
We Too Might Walk In Newness of Life
Dead to Sin, Alive To God
Pentecost
Lord I Believe – Help Thou My Unbelief
Newness of Life
The Greatest of These is Love
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Never Pay Back Evil for Evil to Anyone
Associate with the Lowly
Show No Partiality
So Far As It Depends On You Be At Peace with All Men
Care for the Poor, the Sick, the Lonely, the Widow, the Orphan, the Alien
Lord I Believe – Help Thou My Unbelief
William Tyndale
The Anabaptists
The Inquisition
The Crusades
Michael Servetus
Mary Dyer
Lord I Believe – Help Thou My Unbelief
My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And by night, but I have no rest.
Yet You are holy
Lord I Believe – Help Thou My Unbelief



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Georges Boujakly

posted August 25, 2007 at 1:07 pm


Scot,
I appreciated your reservation and am glad for it.
I felt as I was reading the article that definitive statements could not be made… perhaps ever…
My experience tells me, as Mother Theresa was advised: in the web of darkness I am not the cause, I can’t remedy it, I can’t feel my way back to God, and I interpret my craving for God as his work in me. Learning to trust the absence takes humility, which I take as a gift from the Absent One.
Something (not quite sure how to deal with it) in her experience brought this to mind: “her darkness could not overcome her.” Definitive statement but not unwarranted since she persevered to the end. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome or destroy him. This darkness will not destroy her either (despite the wishes of arrogant humanism).



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Wolf N. Paul

posted August 25, 2007 at 3:37 pm


Phil (#18) writes,
“Where in scripture do I find warrant for the belief that God denying me any sense of his love, grace, or working in my life is a sign of his special favor?”
I don’t know, but where in scripture do I find warrant for the notion that I should expect to “feel” God’s presence? Do we believe God because we “feel his presence”? I have had Mormons tell me with great conviction that they feel God’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s conviction that the Book of Mormon is a revelation from God. Feelings are notoriously unreliable guides to either the validity or invalidity of our faith.



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Anonymous

posted August 25, 2007 at 4:08 pm


Brief round-up: Hermeneutics to Dr Who » Metacatholic

[...] Various people have blogged about Mother Teresa’s almost permanent dark night of the soul based on this Time story. I will be fascinated to read the book of these collected letters when they come out next month. I recall meeting her as one of the most genuinely humbling experiences of my life. [...]



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BeckyR

posted August 25, 2007 at 4:10 pm


Again, L’Abri. When was that conference, 3 yrs ago? 4? A very interesting speaker about these people who are coming to L’Abri now (or who were then) who know the Bible backwards and forward, know theology, but have no emotional connection with God and are distraught over it, I suppose. That is, it brings them to L’Abri. The workers of L’Abri spend time working with the students to find the self message error that is keeping the heart/head disconnect. The speaker told of one woman, they got to her self message which was – God cares about everyone else but me. Her assignment then, was whenever coming across another L’Abri worker, to say “God cares for you more than he cares for me.” Hoping the result to be to get to the heart of it and turn around the self message.
I’m not sure Mother Theresa is to be revered for her lack of connection to God or if she suffered from the heart/head disconnect. Would it have been turned around had she had the right advisor to work with her on that?
When God says he loves us, it is revered if we not experience what love is?
Were there wounds from her personal past that kept her from having an experiental connection with God? Could she have benefitted from what now is psychological therapy?
We are complex beings and I’m not ready to revere her for so long a disconnect with God. But then, my longest experiential disconnect with God was 12 yrs and I tried everything I could figure out and went to others to help me figure it out, of how to turn it around. There are some events that could be pointed to as why it got turned around, but it felt to me as if God touched his finger to me and said “now’s the time.” And the emotional experience returned. The event that might have helped turn it around – an escaping death illness combined with finding songs I would want at my funeral. But who knows if those contributed.
Right now I’m going through a difficult time. I sure hope it doesn’t result in s prolonged disconnect with God.



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Scott

posted August 25, 2007 at 4:18 pm


Phil (#18)
One must clearly differentiate this “dark night” which is experienced after one has had deep,abiding experiences of Christ and the malaise and crisis of faith which some in a secular contexts go through. Another modern saint (and Doctor of the Church!), Saint Therese of Lisieux experienced the same thing until her death.
The fact that neither saint glamorized and glorified this suffering goes a long way in dispelling the notion that it emanated from a disturbed psyche, in the same way that Job rails against YHWH because of his predicament and Jesus cries out from the Cross with his words of dereliction.
Note:Unlike the omniscient narrator who let’s us in on what’s going on in Job’s life, YHWH never tells Job why he’s experienced his abandonment(to the Satan).YHWH just tells him that as one of his creatures he can do with him as he pleases.We’re informed that Job is a righteous man,upright in all his ways. YHWH commends him to Satan as unique amongst humankind,who belies the fact that humans only serve God because God favors them with good things.YHWH puts his reputation on the line with Job against the cynical musings of the Satan.



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Julie

posted August 25, 2007 at 5:38 pm


There are some events that could be pointed to as why it got turned around, but it felt to me as if God touched his finger to me and said “now’s the time.”
It is precisely these kinds of “experiences” that people who have “lost God” find so distressing – that someone else could say that God chose to touch one and not another, when one cries out to God (who purportedly knows all about us and could reach us as unique individuals) and eventually finds solace and comfort and another never does…
There are some hard questions here for God. I wish we didn’t run from the crisis this is ought to create because theology could get a lot more robust and creative if we faced the disappointment it is to find out that we can’t know that we’ve ever apprehended God, that we can’t tell if he’s apprehended us, that our devotion and prayers don’t necessarily create “relationship” – the most popular way evangelical Christians describe religion.
What is faith? If it is dogged persistence to live out precepts without a sense of their being true… well, wow.
Is that good news? Is that the Gospel? Is that relationship and not religion? Is that what it means to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit?
I think these questions deserve more than an apologetic.



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Jennifer

posted August 25, 2007 at 5:55 pm


Julie,
I echo so many of your concerns here.
But, the most mysterious thing of all to me is that Teresa did not feel she had to leave her faith. As for the reason why, my money is on the fact that she was able to confess her feelings and still remain where she was, doing what she felt called to do.
I think evangelicals paint ourselves in a corner on this one. How long would it take for a church leader (someone at the local church level leading a small group, all the way up to the pastors of famous churches) to be removed after they confessed not knowing God’s presence? That does not seem like it would be a safe thing to confess to anyone in most churches. Despite her anguish, Teresa was blessed that she had someone to whom she could confess without fear that they would doubt her salvation or take away her ministry. It doenst seem like a lot of evangelicals have that benefit.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted August 25, 2007 at 6:18 pm


As I think a little more on this today, I think all the more that this story potentially all the more helpful for me and others.
So many of us want to follow Jesus, obey God’s commands and know and make God’s love known to others. And I know as we read Scripture there is a sense of mystery in it all, whether considering the Old Testament, the New Testament or both together.
I am broken and there are wrong things in my heart. This gives hope to people like me, who get and experience glimpses of the freedom living in the truth brings, but who by and large, I speak for myself, am a seeker. My journey of faith is one of seeking and trying to follow after one who I seem to so faintly “see”, by faith. But I’m compelled that way. It’s that way towards the light for me- and with others like that, or left in darkness, and to my own self.



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BeckyR

posted August 25, 2007 at 7:04 pm


Julie, when I had my 12 yrs of disconnect with God I would say the same thing as you. There was no reason, no understanding why it was the way it was. Had someone told me I just needed to wait and God would restore it, it had not been consolation. (I had been told it would return but look differently.) 12 yrs were 12 yrs of distress, as if a beloved were gone. All I know is the connection returned and I try to make sense of it. I’m not saying God’s finger came down and said “now’s the time.” But I have no understanding of why after 12 yrs of searching for how to get the connection again, it just happened one night.



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Bob

posted August 25, 2007 at 7:42 pm


I can say as one who has experienced some of the ecstasy, which seems abnormal to others, that the absence of the ecstasy, which seems normal to others, is devastating. Perhaps this is what Mother Teresa meant. I know when it turned for me, I know the time and place. I was in my car, turning right out of my subdivision onto a busy road, and I said into the air, “God, if you never speak to me again, I’m still going to trust You.” Ever since then, even though feelings come and go, I have had a deep settled peace within, even joy. When others say to me, “My prayers don’t get past the ceiling,” I now say, “They don’t have to get past the ceiling because God is right here in the room with you.” Maybe this sounds trite to some of you, but it works wonders for me.



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Diane

posted August 25, 2007 at 7:52 pm


Scott (#29),
I find your comments very interesting. I think spiritual experiences can look very similar to secular psychological disturbance, but that these two phenomena are different, as you point out. That’s not to say that people who have spiritual experiences don’t suffer from secular psychological malaise as well but that the spiritual component emanates from a different root. It was popular when I was young (and still is, in different ways) to dismiss spiritual experience as “neurotic.” Admittedly, “neurotic” and spiritual behavior can look very similar, but they’re not the same. Your comments about Job make me wonder about the strength of possible spiritual opposition to Teresa. She was such a person of light wouldn’t the darkness go after her? … Of course, I also take very seriously what Julie is saying, that we shouldn’t be glib in glossing over Mother Teresa’s very real suffering and doubt.



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Scott

posted August 25, 2007 at 10:00 pm


Diane(#35)-
Thanks for the very incisive and insightful remarks!This leads me to something that’s been brought up in this thread and is so important:the absolute necessity of spirutual direction and discernment. There is strong tradition of spiritual eldership in the Christian tradition which people can draw from. The fathers and mothers of the desert were supreme psychologists in their own right and understood the workings of the psyche,spiritual influences and their sources.These matters are not hypotheticals nor a matter of paranoia but are discerned in an embodied way by those with experience. Moreover,if we have a robust biblical theology,we understand that YHWH can use Evil for his purposes. Jesus,after his baptism,was thrust into the desert by the Spirit to be tested by the Devil;and Paul was sent a “thorn in the flesh”(whatever it was)to keep him humble because of the great revelations he received.For the saints their lives were lived in community and under accountability, In reality, in the monastic tradition,there is a lot more skepticism and caution about spiritual phenomena because by experience they know it’s a spiritual and psychological minefield.
One thing I do know is that no one person’s experience circumscribes what YHWH (the God of the Bible)can or will do.But if it’s Christian,it’going to be cross and resurrection shaped.This is no joke;this is what Jesus,Paul,and all the martyrs tells us.God is bi enough to minister to each of us wherever we’re at but there will come a time in our lives where YHWH will do a work in us to drsw us to himself to, to purify us so that we love him more,so that we come to know him more as he is. This ends being,for us, a proces of “deconstruction” of breaking us of good things which served a purpose at various pints in our journey but which can become idols and impediments to our growth if not relinquished.For many this means that their theology is too small for their heart and the experience of what God is doing in their lives.I’ve been there!I went from being formed in a conservative, black baptist and charismatic framework to one in which God led me to an ecclesial change in which I was told to get a monk as a spiritual director. It allowed me to grow.



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BeckyR

posted August 25, 2007 at 10:07 pm


I guess I don’t understand because in my experiences spiritual influences psychological, psychological influences spiritual. The physical influences both and vice versa.
Diane, will you explain what “spiritual component
emanates from a different root,” means?
I think we’ll never know why Theresa suffered and/or if it could have been relieved.
What’s that woman who went to the concentration camp with her sister, the movie was made, she gave lectures (saw her at my college once.) TenBoom? She was exposed to inhumanity, cruelest of cruelty only it brought her closer in experience to God. Not sure we can say exposure to suffering causes a person to have spiritual experience disconnect.
But this to say about Mother Theresa – certainly she was faithful and a role model for us of what it is to live in faith, to do the things of God when there isn’t the reward of feeling good about it by warm God fuzzies. It’s not me to judge, but I wonder if she’s in the cloud of witnesses.



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Christine

posted August 25, 2007 at 10:23 pm


Becky said: “It’s not me to judge, but I wonder if she’s in the cloud of witnesses.”
Beck, do you mean this as in you think she is?
I would certainly hope so! A life lived for Christ whom she never apparently rejected? A life lived in faith in spite of feelings?
Unlike Shane who says that the Catholic Church is apostate and that, coupled with the few words of hers we read, means she won’t be in heaven. I so disagree with that.
On a personal note, glad your visit with the doc went well.



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Peggy

posted August 26, 2007 at 12:29 am


BeckyR,
That was Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie…and Corrie struggled intensely with the inhumanity–Betsie was the strong one. But Corrie came around and took the road of reconciliation and forgiveness…but her life ended in accordance with her worst nightmare: back in prison, but this time, her body was her prison.
She who used her words to share God’s love suffered a series of strokes that left her frequently confused and unable to speak for the last five years of her life. No flaming chariot to heaven for that saint of God…but she persevered as well…and I would be surprised if she and Mother Theresa don’t have seats next to each other in the heavenly choir. ;)
I think it is harsh to judge without reading the book, as well…but I also will look to see if the book talked about anything else she talked about. If someone only heard the words of frustration or anger or sadness I have uttered in my life, without any words of joy and peace and contentment…it would not be a true representation of who I am. Each of us in unique and no one else truly knows our feelings or experiences–except Jesus.
I prefer, like at the beginning of these comments, to come and sit in silence in the face of my sister’s grief and emptiness and sorrow…and not ruin the solace of my presence with words about her situation or God’s will, both of which I am ignorant. That is a lesson I have learned from Job…



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Ross

posted August 26, 2007 at 2:03 am


Hi Scot
I have great reservations about using private letters and conversations of someone against their wishes. I just don’t see how it can be justified. Just because we (myself included) love blogging our thoughts, doesn’t justify blogging other people’s, especially when they have apparently asked for their privacy to be respected. And those of a more Catholic bent ought to understand that concept very well. So much for the secrecy of the confessional!



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Bob

posted August 26, 2007 at 7:02 am


Corrie Ten Boom once wrote this about something she discovered during her concentration camp years: “Jesus is Victor in the deepest darkness.” Even in Corrie’s stroke years, in Agnes Bojaxhiu’s (Mother Theresa’s) silent agony, in your life and mine, it is still true. Jesus is Victor in the deepest darkness. Keep saying it to the enemy of your soul — it will drive him nuts, and it will bring you strength.



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Julie

posted August 26, 2007 at 8:44 am


One of the troubling aspects of the revelation of these letters (beyond Ross’s valid concerns) is the discovery that Teresa hid her doubts. If she is lifted up as a model of faith yet is that the model we want to emulate?
I wrote more about this on my blog because in expressing my doubts over the years, I’ve been called a heretic, I was kept out of a leadership role in a homeschooling camp, I was outed to leaders of a group to which I’d been a part for five years – simply because I publicly expressed doubts.
Faith has often been correlated with confession of beliefs (depending on your church affiliation, that list is shorter or longer). If faith is living as though you believe when you don’t and doing good works anyway, isn’t that a pretty huge reconstitution of the definition of faith?



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Diane

posted August 26, 2007 at 9:03 am


Ross,
The Catholic Church has been appropriating the lives of its saints for 1,000 years. I’m not Catholic and I’m not criticizing them, but that’s what they do. Apparently, the church believes its saints are part of its body and can be used to serve in a way that transcends their individual wishes. “This is my body, broken for you.” If you have ever been to Assisi you will see the astonishing and wholesale appropriation of Francis in complete contradiction to all his wishes and in complete contradiction to how he lived his life. And the church moved very rapidly. Again, I’m not saying right or wrong, it’s simply the reality and I wouldn’t expect it to change. And I would say with anybody who becomes a public icon, the same is true. Maybe the sacrifice of privacy is the ultimate sacrifice.



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Joe Hopkins

posted August 26, 2007 at 9:09 am


John the Baptist also had his “dark night of the soul.” Did this disqualify him from sainthood? No more should Mother Theresa be disqualified.



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Diane

posted August 26, 2007 at 9:12 am


Becky,
I do think the psychological and the spiritual are intertwined. I’m suggesting (and may be wrong) that what can look almost exactly like psychological illness can be profound spiritual health. For example, Francis of Assis, George Fox, etc, looked very much like people suffering from depression or mental disorder, but in fact they were following a spiritual light that led them to act in ways that were actually healthy, They reformed the church and saved lives and fulfilled their destinies and become fully authentic humans, That’s not to say they didn’t suffer from corollary psychological problems. But I have two points, which I think are fairly obvious and that you would agree with in general: 1. It would have been an utter loss to humanity and to the KOG to “cure” or “fix” either Fox or Francis, to make them “normal” or “well-adjusted.”
2. In the case of Mother T., it worries me that the Time article pulled in a psychologist. Again, we haven’t seen the book, but if she’s acting out of a spiritual center, no matter how dark, we can limit her if we try to put a purely psychological grid over her. I tend to doubt we can reduce her spiritual suffering to “compensating for guilt over her success.” I’m not saying that possibly she didn’t suffer from guilt and that that wasn’t important, but to cheapen a probably very deep spirituality by shoving it into a secular psychological box can easily diminish and distort her. I grew up with this. My parents were Lutheran by birth but also very secular people who were waiting for religious “superstition” to rot on the vine. They would often dismiss Martin Luther as a person who just “suffered from a guilt complex.” That’s a good way to X out all his spirituality. And I know that’s not what you’re doing at all, so I imagine I am bringing in my childhood baggage !



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Julie

posted August 26, 2007 at 9:13 am


Diane, you are right. Perhaps what is more troubling, then, is the idea that in appropriating the lives of the saints, the Church defines how Christians are to interpret those same lives (thus controlling Francis’s legacy deliberately, for instance, to deter followers from his more radical edge).
I assume that is likely with Teresa as well.



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BeckyR

posted August 26, 2007 at 12:06 pm


Christine, what I mean is I am unable to know who is in the cloud of witnesses or not. I can say it would seem they would be, whichever person “they” are.
Peggy, well said about not seeing Mother Teresa’s other side, and about judging as being one of Job’s counselors who screwed up big time.
Bob, thanks for the Jesus is the Victor. Good thing to remember in the moments I am inwardly strong enough to use it. And when I’m not, to use as a mantra.
Julie, I’d say my commendation for faith is when my innards do not experience the reality of the truthes but at at that time I sift through my belefs and decide which ones I’ll hang onto even though even that doesn’t bring warm fuzzies. That is different than what I hear you say that we live as though we believe when we don’t. But maybe we’re saying the same thing – my emotional self may be experiencing God is not good but intellectually I choose to believe God is good.
Diane, will you explain further what you mean about Assisi?
And, as to the psychological stuff, I don’t mean about her troubles being guilt over her success. I mean she may have had psychological garbage from her childhood that never got addressed and so as an adult, got intertwined and in the way of how she experienced her spirituality. It was just a wonderment I tossed out there that perhaps there was a dryness Teresa experienced because there was unhealed stuff from her past that had her have a head/heart split. No one will know. I don’t know that anyone can put a psychological profile on someone they don’t know and/or haven’t been around. But, just a thought I had.



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Diane

posted August 26, 2007 at 2:12 pm


Becky,
I think we are saying the same thing, but maybe from different directions. From my scant reading on the topic, I understand that Francis, after a public quarrel with his father, lived in the woods outside of Assisi for several years, dressed in rags, begging and preaching. He was considered, basically, as a mentally-ill homeless person. Kids would throw stuff at him. Then a few people discerned he was on to something authentic and he developed a following and the rest, as they say, is history. At least, this is my understanding from reading Sabatier ‘s bio and one smaller biography of him, plus books to my kids. I certainly may not have all the details straight but that’s the basic story as I understand it.



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Diane

posted August 26, 2007 at 2:35 pm


Julie,
I read on your blog about the reaction of your church to your doubts and I can see that the reaction you describe was quite unhelpful to you. I also agree that dealing with doubt is a huge and very important topic for churches. I’ve seen the “shun the unbeliever” approach which is quite destructive and I’ve seen the liberal, “anything goes” approach, “so what if you’re an atheist, if our paths cross it’s beautiful, ” which is also quite destructive. As Peggy has pointed out on other threads, there’s the danger of people with very shaky belief systems being swayed by the unbelief of others and the opposite danger of hypocrisy and dishonesty in repressing one’s beliefs. One outcome I can predict is greater emphasis on the missional, on how you act in love and not what you believe, but all the same, foundational beliefs are important and why you’re doing things matters. I suppose we need to develop a hermeneutic for doubt so that people can experience it (as they will) without the whole edifice coming down. And probably some of the edifice needs to come down.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 26, 2007 at 2:49 pm


Diane,
That expression “hermeneutic of doubt” expresses something important. Very few people who spend their time thinking and wondering and exploring and re-thinking don’t have at times some doubts … a hermeneutic that makes way for doubt as an element of what faith struggles with is important. Thanks.



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posted August 26, 2007 at 3:10 pm


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Nancy

posted August 26, 2007 at 3:16 pm


i think that the best way to look at someone else’s faith is through my own first.



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Ian

posted August 26, 2007 at 5:16 pm


Phil #18 -
In answer to your question -
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” – Christ.
We do not need to “feel” God’s presence to know He is there. We do not need to “experience” God continually to know that He still works in our lives.
In fact, those things destroy faith. Because faith is the evidence of things not seen. It is NOT the evidence of our senses.
If you point to the fact that you believe in God because of your experiences, great. Thomas, also, believed when he had felt Christ.
Theresa still believed even though she could not feel the presence of God. What did Christ say about that to Thomas?



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Peggy

posted August 26, 2007 at 5:30 pm


Bob and BeckyR,
Corrie ten Boom always signed correspondence: “In Jesus, the Victor,” And the other “concentration camp” saying that summarized her “dark night of the soul” was: “No pit is so deep that His love is not deeper still.”
I have talked before about sitting in the pit with Jesus–a Jesus that I did not feel, because I did not feel anything, but I KNEW was there because he said he would never leave or forsake me. I remember asking him to just hang in there with me and I would get through to the other side. He did…still does.
I wonder if part of the hermeneutic of doubt is to elaborate some of the subtlities between trust and faith–does that make any sense? Faith is something I have, while trust is something I do in response to my faith. I have faith in Jesus’ constant presence through the Holy Spirit within me–because that is what he said was true. Trust enables my will to continue to persevere even when I can’t feel that presence….
Takes me back to the line from “Sleepless in Seattle” when Sam describes his life after the death of his wife: I get up every day, and breathe in and out….”
…interesting that “breath” is a descriptor for “spirit”



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Julie

posted August 26, 2007 at 5:37 pm


Scot, that is what I suggest in the article I wrote for UPI (comes out tomorrow) that we need to theologically grapple with doubt. One of my question is: if your pastor admitted to not believing in the resurrection, how would that impact you? If someone prayed that you feel the love of God but hadn’t felt it himself, how would that impact you?
Ian suggests that we are wrong to expect or assume feelings as part of faith. Yet when intellectual doubts arise, experience and encounter are cited as antidotes to intellectual doubt. Somewhere in the mix has to be an admission that we know in part (both intellectually and experientially)… and the “in part” is fragmentary and uncertain.
Usually when I bring up doubt, someone will counter that everyone experiences doubt… but. That’s not the same as doubting. Doubting is not wondering, worrying, reconsidering an item or two. It’s the experience of the world falling out from under you, that you’ve been lied to, that you’ve been gullible, that somehow all that you counted on doesn’t fit any more.
To know that experience doesn’t produce, “Sure we all have doubts” as the response. It usually produces empathy.
The Christians who’ve helped people like me the most are those who have little investment in returning me to a particular version of faith, but are interested in how the process has unfolded and show respect for that process.
Scot, in fact, is one of them. :)
Julie



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Scot McKnight

posted August 26, 2007 at 5:45 pm


Julie,
One small point, and since I haven’t seen the actual piece I may be quibbling with nothing, but it seems a pastor “not believing” in the resurrection is different than doubting it. In other words, the former is firm, the latter not. I suspect you mean “has doubts about.” ?
And thanks for your kind remark at the end.



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Julie

posted August 26, 2007 at 9:11 pm


That’s a worthwhile correction. My original intent was to indicate that doubt sometimes acts as unbelief (even as Teresa’s writings indicate that she wavered into unbelief). But I like the nuance you bring out and have reworded that portion to reflect a more subtle distinction. Thanks.



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RJS

posted August 26, 2007 at 10:00 pm


Julie,
Your comments here and the posts on your blog are fascinating. You are so right – we need to theologically grapple with doubt, and we need a church that allows for this grappling and growth. But the definition of doubt in #55 is far more extreme than I would have posed or considered. I have thought a lot about Christian faith, starting in college and graduate school (some 20-30 years ago now), and have modified understandings and beliefs on some things, and still have periods of doubt and question, – but I never felt lied to, deceived, or gullible in this context. I have also never been part of a truly fundamentalist group. Maybe this is why I find it easier to look for a middle ground; most intellectual doubts I have no longer challenge the “essentials” of orthodoxy (not existence of God, incarnation, or resurrection) – because these essentials have a much more secure foundation than traditional fundamentalist or even evangelical mindsets generally admit. They also have a more secure foundation than most liberal theologians or scholars will admit – and here I would think particularly of the “Jesus Seminar” and such endeavors. There are no proofs. But Christians need to be thinkers – not “authoritarian minded” believers. More importantly we need to be thinkers who intentionally look at all sides, not simply the devout or the skeptical.
Thanks for your view



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Scott Watson

posted August 27, 2007 at 12:05 am


Julie (#55)
I think I understand where you’re coming from but the process you are talking about has as much to do with wrestling with ourselves. This involves recognition of the true state of and healing of our hearts and minds through sound and wise spiritual direction and counsel. Otherwise we’ll get stuck in projecting our own “issues” as it regards our finitude, falleness, particular fears,anxieties,guilt,woundings in life, etc. onto these large religious/existential issues. I’ve gone through a cycle of this in my own life negtively effected my relationship with God.For me the issue revolved around getting a particular human relationship (with my earthly father) in order so that I my heart was free to embrace God as God actually was to me rather than me projecting my issues onto the I felt was a distant, imperious judge of me, an idol of my own making.



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Julie

posted August 27, 2007 at 5:52 am


Scott, you might be projecting your issues onto me (ironically). I’ve never had difficulty with God (as far as intimacy or experiences or belief). Spent 25 years in love with God, with Christ, sensing the movement of the Holy Spirit (based on how I was taught to detect his activity in my life).
My issues were theological, particularly as pertains to what I saw as incongruities related to salvation (and have expressed these here at times and especially on my blog). I was a missionary to Muslims… the issues were very real to me. I went to graduate school for the last four years to study theology to help me sort them out (and it helped tremendously). It’s why I haven’t “left” the faith all together. Instead, I’m trying to find that “middle way” that RJS talks about (though my middle may feel discordant with his or anyone else’s).
RJS: Have to say – I like reading your posts even when we aren’t coming from the same place. Thanks for being that kind of commenter. I certainly did come from conservative evangelicalism (that ironically did not like to be identified as fundamentalist, but I think had many of its stripes).
I can agree with this statement: But Christians need to be thinkers – not “authoritarian minded” believers. More importantly we need to be thinkers who intentionally look at all sides, not simply the devout or the skeptical.
I like how you put it.



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Matthew

posted August 27, 2007 at 7:14 am


Julie,
Just so you know, RJS’s faith is “her” faith, not “his” faith. Such facts are not immediately obvious when only interacting with the medium of text.



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Julie

posted August 27, 2007 at 7:17 am


Thanks Matthew and how interesting that I made an assumption. I’m so glad you pointed it out.
Apologies RJS.



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RJS

posted August 27, 2007 at 8:21 am


Julie,
No problem – I have several reasons for using initials.
Most importantly – I want to be able to comment here without worrying that a google search on my name will turn up my comments.
A secondary reason however is that I don’t really want people to immediately assign gender to my comments. Although, as Matthew noted, many who read here know I am a woman and I have made that clear on several occasions(actually also married with two children).
It is interesting though that no one has ever assumed in comments here that I am a woman – without other information supplied.



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JACK

posted August 27, 2007 at 10:50 am


It’s been interesting to see the reaction to this Time article. I’m interested in seeing the book as well, and will know better what it offers when I do.
But a few things can be cleared up:
1) First, this isn’t new news, at least in Catholic circles. It’s been known for years and was given a fair bit of public attention in 2003 when First Things published an article about it.
2) There’s no indication that anything said under the seal of confession is being released here. I don’t think any of you understand how grievous of an offense that would be and how seriously that is taken. I realize for those without a sacrament of confession in their experience may not understand the difference between that and general spiritual direction, but it is not insignificant. I seriously doubt the book’s editor, who is the postulator for her cause for canonization, would be in good standing with the Holy See if this book contained details that were told by her under the seal of confession.
3) As for keeping of the latters against her wishes, I understand everyone’s reaction. I had the same initially. Privacy is supreme in our culture. With the loss of general acceptance of moral principles in much of our culture, it has become the guiding light (with its corollary of “as long as what you do doesn’t affect me”) for our public thinking. But who can’t speak from experience how an individual doesn’t always know what is best? Have none of you refused to do something for a family member because you thought that what they wanted you to do was not for the best?
As for the keeping of the letters against her wishes, in particular, a few things: (1) first, I believe it is correct that she knew that her wish wasn’t going to be obeyed. At least that’s the impression I was always given, namely, that she didn’t labor under the notion that it would be secret and then everyone just ignored the request after she died. (2) I wouldn’t judge the decision too harshly. Where do you think much of our knowledge of history comes from but the personal writings of people that have been preserved through the years? (3) In a certain sense, we are not our own when we become Christians. Particularly, the great public saints. Maybe that seems self-serving of a point to some, but I think only strongly if we are starting from a position of individual privacy reigns supreme.
Finally, Julie, it might be helpful, but I think one must distinguish between experience and feelings. They are related, but I think it is an error of our modern times (and much of present-day Christian culture) to reduce experience down to just feelings. But if you permit experience to be broader than that, then it becomes possible for faith to build on something more than just mere “precepts”, even if there’s a large lack of good feelings.
Also, it should be said that — from the accounts I have seen — Mother Teresa also experienced an incredible union with God at the beginning. After all, it was that experience that led her to begin her famous order and work. One wonders how that might have played into the thread of all of this with her long years of “darkness” afterwards.



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Anonymous

posted August 27, 2007 at 12:12 pm


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Julie

posted August 27, 2007 at 4:01 pm


Finally, Julie, it might be helpful, but I think one must distinguish between experience and feelings. They are related, but I think it is an error of our modern times (and much of present-day Christian culture) to reduce experience down to just feelings. But if you permit experience to be broader than that, then it becomes possible for faith to build on something more than just mere “precepts”, even if there’s a large lack of good feelings.
So give me your best shot: how do you differ between “feelings” (which you devalue) and “experience” (which you value?
In my context, I haven’t used the word feelings, but rather, experience so I’m intrigued that you assume I mean a less valued (by you) version of what I termed experience, than you would mean using the same term.



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JACK

posted August 28, 2007 at 11:05 am


Julie, I’m not saying “feelings” are to be less valued. All I am saying is that they are a subset of the set of what is “experience”. That there is more to experience than just feelings.
I raised the possibility that you were using experience as the same word as feelings based on what you said, but only you can clarify if that was the case.
As for trying to give the broader definition, I will have to do that later when I have more time. My simple point was that if we define experience to be only about emotional affect then we will end up with a very different picture of how things are and ought to be than if we allow experience to be broader.



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Anonymous

posted August 30, 2007 at 4:49 pm


Doubting Teresa : ReleBlog

[...] There’s been plenty of bloggy commentary about the contents of the book, most of which hit news cycles a few days ago to ramp up the book’s publicity campaign. Some have criticized the publisher for exposing these obviously private (and pain-filled) letters to the public — Teresa apparently wanted them destroyed, but the Vatican held onto them as the potential relics of a saint-to-be — but I’m thrilled to read them, because they give me hope. Here’s an excerpt: [...]



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