(Special Post Mother Teresa 2) A Role Model for Women? by Mago Circle Members

[Editorial Note: The following is an edited version of the discussion that took place spontaneously on Mago Circle from March 1, 2013 for about two weeks. It was an extensive, heated, yet reflective discussion, now broken into four parts to fit the format of the blog. We thank each and all of the participants for your openness, generosity, and courage to stand up for what you believe and think! Some are marked as anonymous. As someone stated, something may have been “written in the heat of the moment” and some might like to change it at a later time. So we inform our readers that nothing is written in stone. As a matter of fact, the discussion is ongoing, now with Magoism Blog readers. Please comment and respond as you wish.]

MT 2

Part II: We Disagree! Stand up for what you believe but be open-minded!

Naa Ayele Kumari: I am going to step away from the common responses and say this… Binary is only no in betweens if you choose sides and can’t see the whole. I have been a part of black consciousness movements and women’s movements and both have the capacity for progress as well as extreme viewpoints. Both have the capacity to become so hypercritical that the movement itself transcends common human compassion and understanding. Mother Teresa was a human being with flaws and goodness. She had a public image and private fears and insecurities.. l like all of us. She lived her life the best way she knew how.. Like all of us. She made mistakes.. misjudgments.. Like all of us. But she also DID help and inspire others to help too. It is this dualistic thinking that forces people to feel like they have to assign the label of good or bad and no in between. None of us are all good or all bad.. so it seems to me that to label her has an evil traitor who let people die is no better than labeling her an Angel of god who did no wrong. She was a woman who lived her life and managed to come to worldwide fame and inspire others to love at a time and in an institution that was highly patriarchal and women were not raised up at all. Mother Goddesses in Africa were known for great nurturing and care symbolized by carrying a baby and also carried a machete on the other side for justice. This was the fine balance of wholeness…she was the gentle rain and the storm.. This was binary, but not one or the other but both.. Opposite ends of the same pole.

[H]: I’m having a powerful visceral effect from this conversation. I feel as if I’m going to vomit violently. Mother Teresa comes to me in dreams and meditations. Makes me wonder what kind of person I’m seen as if I attract her energy. I have always felt so much love for her.

Naa Ayele Kumari: If she comes in your dreams and it has been healing for you… Allow it/ her to continue to be healing for you. Its all about love and anything that is not love… Leave it be.. Vomiting is rejecting something that doesn’t belong with you. Embrace love my sister.

Antonia McGuire: I think we may all agree that all belief systems initially began to promote a sense of goodness or fairness to some degree, but over time they are corrupted and produce both advantages and disadvantages.

Donna Snyder: Yes, Gandhi, too. Back in the 90’s when I was in a band/performance art troupe called Central Nervous System, I shocked all the guys in the band coming out with an improv in response to a melody played on a banjo tuned like a sitar, called exactly that-Yes, Gandhi. Now make no mistake, he is one of my heroes, devoid of the falsified sentimentality that clings to MT. Gandhi’s work was for the world, for the masses, not for the appropriately humbled. Yet I spoke out about his sexual practices, his use of female bodies. Telling the truth about a hero requires courage. Retreating into a blind defense of a myth is a form of ethical cowardice.

Anne Wilkerson Allen: Strangely I had a discussion with someone about the “hero’s journey” moving from metaphorical to physical being part of the problem…..when the “demons” are human instead of our own flaws, there seems to be a tendency to point the finger (and gun barrel) elsewhere.

[B]: Fascinating & thought-provoking conversation, all. I think the biggest stumbling block I have with MT is how her acceptance of the dogma of the Catholic church blinded her to seeing and then being moved by the suffering of others enough to do something to alleviate & not vicariously celebrate it. No wonder she “suffered a lack of connection with the Divine”. This crisis with her spirituality seems to have been divorced from her and others’ body wisdom. Self-abnegation (perhaps not the same as “sacrifice”) ultimately backfires because some small part of us insists, “I am worthy!” To which I say, “We are all worthy!”

MT 5[H]: I do not see or feel that she vicariously celebrated the suffering of others. I feel that she devoted her life to deeply loving and serving the poorest of the poor. I have not been to Calcutta and I have also seen some unimaginable poverty in India that is not like anything that I’ve been exposed to before. I truly believe that she had a very deep way of working with suffering that is not necessarily visible to those more accustomed to modern medical intervention and the resources available for such. I have participated in a very small amount of poverty medicine and the resources that we take for granted are just not readily available to MANY. I learned very powerfully from my experience how blessed and fortunate and often very careless we really are with our precious resources. This discussion has been a learning experience for me. I am trying to not take the critical comments personally and it is a difficult lesson for me in sitting with all of the unfortunate views. I know that everything has fortunate and unfortunate aspects. I am learning to listen without arguing or defending. It is a bit painful for me to practice right now. I remain committed to my practice.

[Z]: I hear you, [H]. Sorry that this discussion makes you uncomfortable. You have a good point. I must say that we do not have to agree on these matters, how grave one may think it is! So I respect your view. Blessings!

[Z]: And I expect you to allow me to express what I think and believe. Right? There are a lot more people who think like you, [H]. This is still only a small group of people who see the matter otherwise. So I think this is a place to express non-conventional views of her. Thank you for your effort to try to bridge the gap.

Linda T. Marsh: It doesn’t surprise me that the Catholic Church used Mother Teresa. They needed an example of a holy woman during that era, especially with women leaving the church because of inequalities. I am curious if all those millions simply found their way back to the Vatican coffers. Terrific discussion. It makes me sad that my teenage son counts Gandhi and Mother Teresa (and the Dali Lama) as spiritual heroes. I think I will wait and let him discover for himself the negatives of hero worship. Not in the mood for bubble bursting.

[G]: I am arriving late to this thread, and have only read *some* of them… what comes to mind for me is that the “myth of selfless behavior” does a lot of damage to women, in the form of no boundaries and endless giving because it is unconsciously presented as the “better path of action.” TRUE giving does not expect rewards, and in fact, probably hides from the limelight…

One of the major theories around breast cancer and ovarian cancer has to do with women having a lack of boundaries in the arena of giving of self. Men traditionally acted in the public sector, and women stayed at home.

In another thread, I was discussing the difference between mother-tongue language (internalized, at home, intimate) and father-tongue language (externalized, public workplace, commerce based.)

We forget that ideas of altruism arise from spiritual traditions, but there is a possibility that things in life are not always about “being fixed,” and even our ideas of “helping those less fortunate” sometimes acts as a way of privileging.

Naa Ayele Kumari: I would just like to ask if someone can point to me what the perfect woman and perfect woman’s life looks like? The one who made all the right choices and never has been subject to any patriarchal culture especially if she was born in 1910. The one who always gave perfectly and did the right thing in everyone’s eyes? The one who has no issues or things they need to work on… And was eternally happy with every aspect of her live and completely in tune with her spiritual source. I’m particularly interested if there is anyone on this thread ..or group like that.. Please, sister, come forth and show us the way.

[Z]: You know, we think we are talking about MT. But I can see it is also about us as individual discussants. It also speaks about you when you express an opinion. So be it.

What I mean is that it is complex! We see the world here. I am learning too to accept and let it be…

Max Dashu: Of course no one is perfect. But there are issues here that bear examination (Indians are quite critical of the colonial aspects of her mission as well) and i think the conversation needs to happen since Mother Teresa is the one woman who comes up regularly in the boilerplate lists of great spiritual leaders (the virtually all-maleness of which i find deeply problematic). The question arises, why are women passed over in public memory, and when they do appear, how and why are they chosen?

[Z]: Thanks for bringing the discussion back on the track, Max. I did not want to repeat what was said above. Not that I do not wish to say but it seems disturbing to some of us to a degree that it invokes some resistance. I suggest that we calm down and process what this issue is with MT without personalizing it too much. Does that make sense? Thank you all.

Naa Ayele Kumari: While I do agree there is a need to look at women who may have been passed over, etc. Of course, there were plenty of spiritual woman all over the world. Im ready to honor them as we bring them up for whatever they did. We can take away from them what worked and is helpful. I just don’t agree with singling out and criticizing one that was not passed over effectively calling her a traitor…and summing up a whole life as negative and not worth anything. It’s the catholic church… I don’t really expect much from them in terms of women. She was born in 1910 like my great grandmother. She actively advocated and promoted love compassion and care for the needy her whole life. Even her views of suffering were more so a result of Indian culture, but not intended to cause more suffering. It’s how most Indians explain the world. I think she did her best given her circumstances and may have made mistakes too. She was a product of her environment. But if Catholic patriarchs did use her while she was alive, I’m not going to trash her in her death…especially because her ideals and teachings are what still inspire people to do better by each other… Much more so than periodic reports of her personal failures. There are far too many other women to lift up and honor instead. That’s all I’m gonna say. We don’t all have to agree and it’s still ok. I still respect all of you.

[Z]: Okay that is what we have been doing! Thanks, anyway.

Glenys Livingstone: Amazing discussion …. almost like being in circle with you all! Is it the case then that MT is in part a victim of very conservative factions who used popular media to further their cause? – and perhaps not unlike what the church has done with Mary mother of Jesus over the centuries. I like your take on it Max. I think too of Miriam Robbins Dexter’s comments in “Whence the Goddesses” about how patriarchal spins found certain qualities useful (some ‘virgin’ and mother qualities that they could separate out and make use of) and other qualities that were of no use to them and downright lethal for them. I mean think of how complex the whole Mary thing is! Is she perfect servant or is she Goddess … and all the subtleties and complexities of that.

Glenys Livingstone: Not that I think MT necessarily was in the same category as Mary – probably not at all. In fact what I mean about her being victim of powerful factions is that she was perhaps completely not up to the media hype … a humble naive soul that was pushed beyond where she really wanted to be. I am interested in those letters you spoke of Max that revealed her spiritual despair?

Suzanne Santoro: yes, those letters. Thanks.

MT 4

[H]: From “Revolution of Love” by David Scott, p. 154.

I did not know that love could make one suffer so much…of pain human bur caused by the divine.

The more I want Him, the less I am wanted.

I want to love Him as He has not been loved,

and yet there is that separation, that terrible emptiness,

that feeling of absence of God.

They say people in hell suffer eternal pain

because of the loss of God…In my soul I feel just this terrible pain of loss,

of God not wanting me, of God not being God,

of God not really existing.

That terrible longing keeps me growing,

and I feel as if something will break in me one day.

Heaven from every side is closed.

I feel like refusing God.

Pray for me that I may not turn a Judas to Jesus in this painful darkness.

[H]: To her spiritual director in 1957:

In the darkness…Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The child of Your love – and now become as the most hated one. The one – You have thrown away unwanted – unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer… Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness and those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love – the word – it brings nothing. I am told God lives in me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.

[H]: These are from “Revolution of Love” chapter 17, titled Mother Teresa’s Long Dark Night.

Anne Wilkerson Allen: I have known the voice of God and had it go silent – I always thought that was the “longing” and it wasn’t until I started reading feminist spirituality and Rumi that I began to understand the Divine within….

Anne Wilkerson: Allen I’m not saying it wasn’t there before, but I remember repressing every glimpse, thinking it was “ego” and heretical.

[Z]: Thanks so much for pouring your heart and mind, [H] and all. This is a really sacred and safe space we expose what is stored in us deep down. What matters is the courage to stand for what we believe and think. Of course, there is always so much to learn and change. However, how do we know unless we lay out things on the table? I honor and appreciate your posts all. I believe we all are in good hand of the Great Goddess, Mago! Much love.

Suzanne Santoro: thanks for the poems. they are painful and obscure. reminds me of a wonderful book by italian feminist, luisa muraro in her “the god of women”. she talks of Margherita Porete in the Mirror of Simple Souls. the mystic women of those days. sounds like lots of trauma but poor Margherita was in the middle ages. i wonder where you could put it? church there and still here, that we do know.

MT 7Diane Horton: I am afraid, [H], that her suffering in this spiritual way, in my mind, is the direct product of the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Fundamentalist Church: that humans are nothing, that they were born sinful and dirty, unacceptable to and separated from God, unworthy, that God is outside, up there, the “Other”, harshly and rigidly critical of humans, the Great Judge, and their undeniable glorification of suffering as something which redeems one and makes one “holy” and acceptable in the sight of that God, because in that suffering the person is emulating Christ on the cross. I have no doubt that she did suffer both existentially and emotionally, but swimming in that sea, how could it be otherwise? I have compassion for her as I do everyone in this human journey. But she could have done the meager amount she did in her” houses for the dying” with a few hundred dollars in her pocket, not the hundreds of millions of dollars which poured into her coffers. Where is that money now? Why did she ultimately value suffering and pain over compassion and healing? That is a perversion of Jesus’ life and how we are taught that emulating him is the greatest way to live one’s life.

My take on her fraternizing with not only questionable but horrific rulers and criminals as well as taking their money was probably also her living out what she thought Jesus would do, as Jesus fraternized with all the low-life of the society around him, especially those who were considered sinful and unclean by the society. So, while showing a sort of skewed judgment in our eyes, she may have been acting out of pure conviction. But, then again – why didn’t she use that money to relieve suffering and to treat illnesses? She could have had a team of some of the best physicians in the world. Even with the Indian society around her being steeped in the ideas of castes, karma, the gift of suffering, etc., that is not in the philosophy or actions of Jesus, even though the Catholic Church taught in opposition. How did her original compassion turn to callousness? Did she finally determine there was no god, and therefore no afterlife and therefore with nothing but a great void before her lose her humanity?

Julie Bowen: The poems read like Psalms.

MT 3Max Dashu:

“The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book’s compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, “neither in her heart or in the eucharist.”

“That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated. Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. “The smile,” she writes, is “a mask” or “a cloak that covers everything.” Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. “I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love,” she remarks to an adviser. “If you were [there], you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy.'”

No help from her socalled “spiritual directors,” because they had their own agendas for her –as i said, instrumentalized her, and her femaleness was a big part of that, in their war to keep women in their place. They made her their icon for that and she suffered from it. The irony is that she was in Bengal, where spiritual nectar was to be had, outside the framework of institutional christianity. She persevered in her loyalty to a church that was not worthy of it.


Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews – TIME.com

Suzanne Santoro: well said…

[B]: Thank you, Max, for sharing this. It may not have been clear from my previous posts, but I have deep compassion for the personal, spiritual pain she experienced. I wish that her spiritual advisors had more compassion for her, rather than their own agenda.

Max Dashu: Yes Diane on church doctrine making suffering into a goal in its own right. I don’t think she lost her humanity, only her spiritual freedom and sovereignty. She could not follow the impulses of her own heart because she believed they were blasphemous, all because of pernicious doctrines.

[H] MT took her name from Theresa Lisieux (the Little Flower). I have a bizarre deep connection with both of these women and I honestly believe that the two of them guided me to a Mary Magdalene Sadhana with a group called “Awakening Women.” It all happened during this discussion. The sadhana starts 4/3/2013. I hope I don’t sound as crazy as MT communing with Christ, but I do deeply commune with her in meditation. There is something interesting that I can’t quite define happening to me right now.

Thanks for the link Max.

[H]: http://awakeningwomen.com/marysadhana/

A 21 day Mary Magdalene Sadhana Immersion – Awakening Women


Donna Snyder: Thank you, Diane, for your lucid expression of my own thoughts and sentiments.

Max Dashu: I just come back to the question, where did all that money go? I don’t believe for a second that MT took it for herself; most likely she forked it over to the Vatican. Little went to improve the harsh conditions for the suffering in her hospices, and the many millions of dollars would have gone a long, long way in India given the low value of the rupee.

Diane Horton: Exactly! Like I said, she could have done what she did with literally several hundred American dollars. With the hundreds of millions she gathered, she could have created state of the art hospitals and brought together cracker-jack medical teams to treat those she instead barely did more for than give them cots so they didn’t have to die on the street.

[Z] Thank you for the discussions. I feel blessed that I got out of christianity and became a radical feminist! Oh nonetheless there are countless women who are still there following the footstep of MT or the like. I know what it is like because I was there.  One can’t go from A to E at once unless leaping like electrons in quantum physics…

[Z] My apology if I gave an impression that I closed this discussion station. I did not want to comment on the article that Max Dashu posted not that I disagree with or deem it unimportant but just it is too much of stuff that is negative and draining about MT in my view. No one’s fault but just the way she was. I will read what was shared by Anne Wilkerson Allen earlier at a later point. If you think there should more crucial to be said, please feel free to chime in. Thank you. Again Mago Circle is a space that welcomes the unconventional view of patriarchal religions and their religious figures/leaders. However, our criticism of them should not drain our energy and connection in the Great Goddess Mago. We do both deconstruction and reconstruction and will have to balance the energy level to be positive and affirmative. At least my role as one of the facilitators is! Goddess reality is larger than MT for sure. Cheers and onward! Thanks you for your love and support.

[Z] I also appreciate Diane Horton’s post above. Thank you, Diane!

(To be continued in Part III. Read Part I here.)

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What I find so heartbreaking is that MT suffered such estrangement from her god – selflessness in my experience does not bring us closer to our Source but further away. With that much said I take the “‘both and” approach to MT’s life. I think she did what she thought she had to do. I also think that modeling “selflessness” is totally destructive to women and that what is being asked of us is to live our lives as authentically as possible – thorns and all.