Thursday, October 29, 2009

Finding Calcutta

I've been enjoying reading "Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service" by Mary Poplin. I found this description on Amazon:
Lifelong educator Mary Poplin, after experiencing a newfound awakening to faith, sent a letter to Calcutta asking if she could visit Mother Teresa and volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity. She received a response saying, "You are welcome to share in our works of love for the poorest of the poor." So in the spring of 1996, Poplin spent two months in Calcutta as a volunteer. There she observed Mother Teresa's life of work and service to the poor, participating in the community's commitments to simplicity and mercy. Mother Teresa's unabashedly religious work stands in countercultural contrast to the limitations of our secular age. Poplin's journey gives us an inside glimpse into one of the most influential lives of the twentieth century and the lessons Mother Teresa continues to offer. Upon Poplin's return, she soon discovered that God was calling her to serve the university world with the same kind of holistic service with which Mother Teresa served Calcutta.

This review by Phyllis Tickle says it well:
In this poignant, elegant, humble memoir, Poplin gives us far more than Mother Teresa or even another Mother Teresa story. She gives us instead the Jesus and the Christianity that operated through Mother Teresa. Poplin's experience of finding Calcutta irrevocably changed her soul. It will change yours as well.

In the chapter "The Missionaries and Miracles," Mary Poplin discusses her experience with a miracle and how in the Western culture, "one is at risk for reporting such things." As she says, miracles are certainly "not a part of the academy" and notes that "even in many religion departments" there have been "alternative explanations for the miracles of Christ." It is interesting, as she notes, that developing nations - unlike Western cultures - see the supernatural, in "revivals, signs and wonders." I'd have to agree with her conclusion that "we have too little faith - Mother [Teresa] called it spiritual poverty. Christ proclaimed to many who were healed, 'Your faith has made you well.'" The result of our Western view of how God operates, for most believers, means that we pray "calmly for ordinary things and fervently when things get really bad" as Charles Kraft (a Western missionary in Nigeria) puts it. In contrast, "the Missionaries of Charity relied on the power of God for everything." This kind of reliance - this stepping out in faith - can only result in experiencing Him.

I deeply appreciated this chapter, based on my personal paradigm shift over the last couple of decades. From a believer who considered that God 'doesn't work that way' (like what you read in the New Testament) anymore, to a believer who, by the grace of God, was able to open the door to experiencing Him, my personal experiences confirm what Poplin discusses. In the past, my worldview, self-sufficiency and general lack of faith kept God 'in a box.' After that box broke open, I have since experienced God in many supernatural ways, such as being physically healed of chronic pain after being prayed over, hearing the voice of God, witnessing demons leave a friend (and the radical transformation in his life after) and being ministered to by words and pictures that other believers (strangers to me) shared with me - words that could only come from God, based on His intimate knowledge of me. I can't express how encouraging it is to walk with God in this new way.

Why did I not experience the Lord so personally before? This question was one that I used in the past to confirm that God in fact does not operate today the same way He did in the New Testament church. After all, if He did still operate supernaturally, then believers that I knew would be experiencing Him. The stories I'd heard from others - usually 'charismatics' - must be made up! Now I know that to be untrue. Many stories are made up - people are people. But the fact is that many stories are true... God works, even today, and He works in power.

So why did I not experience Him before? I liken it to Him being 'a gentleman,' if you will. He's so graciously given us free will and allows us to make our decisions. He knows where we are, respects that, and is not an insecure God who has to 'prove Himself.' In fact, scripture says that "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" Heb. 11:6. Also, how would we grow in character if He kept busting in and 'proving Himself' all the time while we never stepped out, taking the risk to have faith?

Now that I've experienced Him so richly and cannot for a moment doubt His personal involvement, much less His existence, I consider Him to be incredibly patient, gracious and kind toward us and where 'we're at', rather than questioning His very existence due to 'not seeing Him show up.' I'm thankful for His guiding me gently along the journey to knowing Him more fully, and long to continue down this path. If you've not peeked around this curve, I invite you to do so - the path grows more beautiful with every step.