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Posts Tagged ‘India’

Today’s her feastday. A post that’s a compilation from previous years:
St. Teresa is in The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. You can read most of the entry here, at the Loyola site – they have a great section on saints’ stories arranged according to the calendar year. Some of the stories they have posted are from my books, some from other Loyola Press saints’ books.

When we think about the difference that love can make, many people very often think of one amy-welborn-booksperson: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. A tiny woman, just under five feet tall, with no tools except prayer, love, and the unique qualities God had given her, Mother Teresa is probably the most powerful symbol of the virtue of charity for people today.

Mother Teresa wasn’t, of course, born with that name. Her parents named her Agnes—or Gonxha in her own language—when she was born to them in Albania, a country north of Greece.

Agnes was one of four children. Her childhood was a busy, ordinary one. Although Agnes was very interested in missionary work around the world, as a child she didn’t really think about becoming a nun; but when she turned 18, she felt that God was beginning to tug at her heart, to call her, asking her to follow him.

Now Agnes, like all of us, had a choice. She could have ignored the tug on her heart. She could have filled her life up with other things so maybe she wouldn’t hear God’s call. But of course, she didn’t do that. She listened and followed, joining a religious order called the Sisters of Loreto, who were based in Dublin, Ireland.

Years ago,  when the excerpts from Mother Teresa’s journal detailing her “dark night” were published, I wrote several posts. All have links to other commentary.

The first is here.  One of the articles I linked there was this 2003 First Things piece.

A second post, in which I wrote:

My first post on the story of Mother Teresa’s decades-long struggle with spiritual darkness struck some as “dismissive,” and for that I apologize. That particular reaction was against the press coverage – not the Time article, but the subsequent filtering that I just knew would be picked up as a shocking new revelation and used by two groups to promote their own agendas: professional atheists (per the Hitchens reaction in the Time piece itself) and fundamentalist Protestants, who would take her lack of “blessed assurance” emotions as a sure sign that Catholicism was, indeed, far from being Christian.  Michael Spencer at Internet Monk had to issue a warning to his commentors on his Mother Teresa post, for example, that he wouldn’t be posting comments declaring that Roman Catholics weren’t Christian.

So that was my point in the “not news” remark. Because the simple fact of the dark night isn’t – not in terms of Mother Teresa herself or in terms of Catholic understanding and experience of spirituality.  It is very good that this book and the coverage has made this more widely known to people who were previously unaware of either the specifics or the general, and it is one more gift of Mother Teresa to the world, a gift she gave out of her own tremendous suffering. What strikes me is once again, at its best, taken as a whole, how honest Catholicism is about life, and our life with God. There is all of this room within Catholicism for every human experience of God, with no attempt to gloss over it or try to force every individual’s experience into a single mold of emotion or reaction.

In that post, I linked to Anthony Esolen at Touchstone:

Dubiety is inseparable from the human condition.  We must waver, because our knowledge comes to us piecemeal, sequentially, in time, mixed up with the static of sense impressions that lead us both toward and away from the truth we try to behold steadily.  The truths of faith are more certain than the truths arrived by rational deduction, says Aquinas, because the revealer of those truths speaks with ultimate authority, but they are less certain subjectively, from the point of view of the finite human being who receives them yet who does not, on earth, see them with the same clarity as one sees a tree or a stone or a brook.  It should give us Christians pause to consider that when Christ took upon himself our mortal flesh, he subjected himself to that same condition.  He did not doubt; His faith was steadfast; yet He did feel, at that most painful of moments upon the Cross, what it was like to be abandoned by God.  He was one with us even in that desert, a desert of suffering and love.  Nor did the Gospel writers — those same whom the world accuses on Monday of perpetrating the most ingenious literary and theological hoax in history, and on Tuesday of being dimwitted and ignorant fishermen, easily suggestible — refuse to tell us of that moment.

     In her love of Christ — and the world does not understand Christ, and is not too bright about love, either — Mother Teresa did not merely take up His cross and follow him.  She was nailed to that Cross with him. 

Another post with more links to commentary.

And one more.

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This past weekend, I passed through Lilburn, Georgia on the way back from visiting a blogger friend who’s out, in turn, visiting family  – the boys were otherwise occupied.

I had a hitchhiker for part of the journey.

"amy welborn"

This is the reason I went through Lilburn (which is really a northeastern suburb of Atlanta):

It is the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir – one of the largest Hindu temples outside of India.

It’s across the street from a Publix grocery store. And behind a Walgreen’s.

Swaminarayan is one of many expressions of Hinduism. A bit more, from the inside perspective here. 

As you enter, you give your name to a person in the gatehouse.  There’s a big plaza in front of the mandir, with a large pool of water.

"amy welborn" "amy welborn"

You aren’t allowed to take photos inside.  This is as close as you can get.

But you can enter, however.  You must have your knees and shoulders covered – I thought I was okay on the knees, but apparently not, for I was given a wrap – a large sheet of thin black fabric – to cover up.

Shoes are removed and placed in a cubby.  I confess that the experience of walking around on the cool temple floors barefoot was intriguing.  I experienced it as a leveler of sorts, a sign of the universal human position in relationship to the transcendent.

What I presume was the primary interior space wasn’t huge.  As I said, no photos allowed, but I will try to describe it – it was a large space, ornately decorated with stone carvings, lined with niches in which were positioned statues of various deities.  You can see photos here.  I find them fairly creepy, especially those of the more modern figures. 

With recorded music faintly heard in the background, worshippers made their way around the niches and prayed.  Men, women and children – sometimes the children being pushed along by their parents (a universal occurrence). Hands joined in front, some stood, some knelt and prostrated.  It was all silent praying, but for occasional light clapping.  As I said the prayer was silent, but there was also continual quiet conversation happening and children flopping on the ground.  It was a purposeful, yet informal mood. I guess what I was watching was Darshan.

The only other room I saw open was one in which worshippers were (for a donation, it looked to me) pouring water over a gold statue – they closed up before I could go in and read about what was going on, though.

A quick stop in the gift shop before I headed home.

"amy welborn"

I was one of a few visitors during that thirty minutes, include a Japanese mother and daughter and a couple of young African-American women with four young children between them.

People say…this is in ATLANTA?  Well, yes.  There are many Indians in Atlanta. It’s a big city, folks!  I was telling my friend that a few years ago when we went to the north Georgia mountain resort town of Helen, it was a bizarre evening of walking around this Georgia town built in a faux-Alpine style, in the midst of a crowd that seemed to be about a third either south Asian or Middle Eastern.

In visiting this place, you can’t help but reflect on the unapologetic celebration of the visible, highly decorated sacred space of the mandir. There was a  clear-headed explanation of its value that was posted in a small exhibit in the basement (obeying the rules, I didn’t take photos, but I wish I could have, just for my own reference – I can’t find those quotes anywhere on the website).  It was simply taken for granted that this type of exterior space is important, that it nurtures interior life and that this structure and interior reality reflect back on one another.

It was  intriguing, partly because the existence of Hinduism in the modern world, affirmed by very modern people intrigues me, period.  It also offers me food for thought regarding evangelization, as well. I watch and I listen and I ponder, “What would be difficult for these people to leave behind if they were to embrace Christ?”

A good question.

For any of us.

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