My own Jesus,They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of the loss of God – they would go through all that suffering if they had just a little hope of possessing God. In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing (Jesus, please forgive my blasphemies, I have been told to write everything). That darkness that surrounds me on all sides. I can’t lift my soul to God – no light or inspiration enters my soul. I speak of love for souls, of tender love for God, words pass through my lips, and I long with a deep longing to believe in them.…
In my heart there is no faith, no love, no trust. There is so much pain, the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted. I want God with all the powers of my soul and yet there between us is a terrible separation. I don’t pray any longer. I utter words of community prayers and try my utmost to get out of every word the sweetness it has to give. But my prayer of union is not there any longer. I no longer pray. My soul is not one with You, and yet when alone in the streets I talk to You for hours, of my longing for You. How intimate are those words and yet so empty, for they leave me far from You.
…I do my best. I spend myself but I am more than convinced that the work is not mine. I do not doubt that it was You who called me, with so much love and force. It was You, I know….but I have no faith, I don’t believe. Jesus, don’t let my soul be deceived, nor let me deceive anyone.
You may be surprised to learn that this diary entry, with all its longing and despair, was penned by Mother Teresa. For many years the woman who many would regard as one of the very most Christlike people of the 20th century lived with a painful hole where her relationship with God used to be.
Yet, over time and with help, she came to see this painful absence as a paradoxical manifestation of closeness to Jesus - Jesus who at the culmination of His mission cried out 'My God, why have you forsaken me?'
Mother Teresa came to recognise this felt absence of God, not as his actual absence, but as what an earlier mystic, John of the Cross, called 'the dark night of the soul': a journey beyond our misleading senses into God who is unknowably transcendent and unbearably immanent.
To move beyond the idol we comfortably call 'God' or 'Jesus' and to journey into the real God, the real Jesus.
‘I pray God to rid me of God' prayed Meister Eckhart.
I am fifty gazillion eons away from Mother Teresa's (or John of the Cross's or Meister Eckhart's) depth of spirituality. But I do know something of the experience of 'the dark night' (an experience, by the way, that John of the Cross insisted was not just for 'advanced mystics' but part of common Christian experience as God matures us).
To authentically follow God requires, sooner or later, a kind of atheism - as we discover that the God we have enthusiastically embraced is 99% a god of our own construction. We have to abandon God in order to follow God. This is the call of the ever-challenging Jesus.
It is in the night that we are blinded - and then we can start to see. So John of the Cross sings in the darkness:
Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!
(For more on the Dark Night of the Soul, real this excellent article by Mark Yaconelli in a recent Youthwork magazine.)