Saturday, August 25, 2007

Even Mother Teresa...

here's a book I am looking forward to very much
There's a bit of controversy brewing about this one among some of her admirers as to whether this should even be published or not (she made it very clear that she wanted these letters destroyed). My personal opinion is that she was hardcore Catholic, and as such was committed to submitting to what those over her "commanded" (for lack of a better word), including this. Denial of self-will and all that... a key part of her devotion. And it was made equally clear to her that these letters would not be destroyed as she wished, and so there is nothing particularly backhanded about this, in my view.
Thomas Merton went through the same thing, as did I'm sure a whole slew of others through the centuries.
I think most people wouldn't want their personal letters or journals to be read by a bunch of people, but I also think the canon of literature is far richer because of the publication of some of those. The writer is many times not the best judge of what should be made public, and cooler, more objective heads prevail sometimes (Kafka, anyone?). These letters are edited, of course - we're probably not going to read something about MT's illicit sex life (if there were such portions in her private writings). But I think her superiors understood the importance of allowing people to read of her struggles with her faith, as a balance to the commonly held (mis)beliefs about her as some sort of unapproachable saint. I personally think it's incredibly important to bring her image back down to reality as "just like one of us". Her life can't be so easily dismissed as "the sort of thing saints do that I, however, could never do". I think her superiors understand that it can sometimes be more damaging to a person's faith if they think that someone like Mother Teresa never struggled with doubt but was always "perfect, inside and out". There are things that are truly personal and probably shouldn't be shared with everyone, and there are things that seem very personal, and yet are beneficial for others to read as well, for the building up of believers and all that, etc...
just my opinion...

"Night thoughts produced by walking in the rain after two thousand years of Christianity..."

I recently finished reading Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, a fictionalized account of his time in Paris in the early 1930's. In it there is this passage:
"...I can't get it out of my mind what a discrepancy there is between ideas and living. A permanent dislocation, though we try to cover the two with a bright awning. And it won't go. Ideas have to be wedded to action... Ideas cannot exist alone in the vacuum of the mind. Ideas are related to living"
Obvious differences notwithstanding, I was both surprised and excited by what I was reading, because I had posted something here just a week prior to reading this that was along the same lines. I thought it was one of those moments where you feel like things are aligning to let you know you are on the right path. But then after I thought about it, I realized that maybe it wasn't so "coincidental" after all. Perhaps it is just that this Henry Miller book, like all good literature, was leading me along this thought-path the whole time, that it was almost inevitable that I would think something similar to what he was about to write, even though I hadn't yet read that passage. The book itself was informing the thoughts I entertained and followed. The literature I was engaged in at the time had me engaged more than I realized...

(Of course, there's nothing particularly new about these ideas in the first place. All the way back to the first century, Paul says something similar in the New Testament when he writes about not doing the things he wants to do but instead doing that which he doesn't want to...)

The book itself was quite good (is that a feeble-minded understatement?). It is, in fact, a classic - one which was banned for a few decades after it was published. There's a lot of bachelorhood living presented in all it's real rawness (too raw for many), rendered with a poets vision and sensibility, a thirst for a richer experience of life, and a prophet's alarming understanding of the slumber we so easily slip into, from day, to day, to day, to awareness that "The cancer of time is eating us away".

Reading this book, I was reminded of Jack Kerouac's On The Road, a book I hated at the time as a pointless meandering account of nothing worth noting, though he recounts living a similar sort of life in America in the 50's. Henry Miller, however, is well worth the investment, IMO. Miller has something to say about the life he was living and the life he was observing all around him. I probably just didn't get Kerouac at the time, but I found that Henry Miller, in a similar sort of romping account, had much wisdom to offer along the way. I am looking forward to reading more of Henry Miller in the future, as well as the work of one of his most famous "flings" at the time: Anais Nin. Thomas Merton mentions especially liking Wisdom of the Heart and The Collosus, though I think my next book by him will be the "other half" of Cancer, which is Tropic of Capricorn (a similar recounting of his life in New York in the 1920's).