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Exchange of Values

Exchange of Values
acrylic on board 48'X96'

"Structure of Color Perception"

"Structure of Color Perception"
48'X96' acrylic on board

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday In Hell  (daniel imburgia)

Let’s stop pretending that more words
Can change anything now
Even if we had faith once
Most wait their entire life
Wrapped up tight inside their tombs
For someone to command them
Come forth

It’s not the harrowing words
Themselves (if they have ‘selves’)
More like the hydraulics of
A great reservoir of power
Breaching the dike because
What gets funneled though spigots
Can not contain the force of flow
Against all our calculations
The numbers lied

Ashes and dust are more than the
Reckoning of bodily fluids
Signing the history of fire
Our own dried tears testify
No combination of
Incantations or sing-spells
Will roll the stones away
Nor lure us staggering into the light
Still bound in bloody rags

The painting (8 feet by 40 in.) has many images reproduced from Jack Kerouac’s journals (he was a really good artist as well as writer) and some images are from Paul Klee’s angels, as well as a few of my own embellishments.  It hangs, 'in situ,' on the side of an old shed in the woods behind my house.

Blessings, and obliged.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The face of the Virgin Mary after attack in 1972


*** John 20:17, “Noli me tangere” (touch me not).

Another of my poems for lent.  The subject is Michelangelo’s Pieta, one of my favorite sculptures.  Unfortunately, after many assaults over the years one has to view this masterpiece from a distance and through protective glass (which may be the way we prefer to encounter Jesus).


The authorities in Rome
Erected a barrier of bullet-proof glass
Around Michelangelo’s Pieta
Still today some become so enraged
At this dead and pierced through little Jew
They try to smash him with hammers and bullets
Even as he lay in his mother’s arms
He can never be be dead enough
To please his enemies, and
Many of his friends

***  Lazlo Toth, a Hungarian living in Australia, is the name of the hammer wielding assailant who attacked the sculpture during Whitsunday Mass in 1972 while yelling out, "I am Jesus Christ risen from the dead.”  After several blows, Toth bashed off the Virgin's arm at the elbow, knocked off a chunk of her nose, and chipped one of her eyelids.

His roommate in Rome, American Danny Bloom, said of him, “He didn't strike me as a Jesus Christ impersonator, and he never talked to me of such things. We spent much of our days drinking coffee, going to parties at night and drinking beer and wine, and Lazlo often played his guitar. He told me was from Hungary, that he was a geologist and that he had spent a long time out in the outback of Australia for his job.  He had a goatee, and he looked like a Hungarian poet. Nice guy. Longish hair, as was the style in those days, but not a hippy at all.  One thing I remember about Lazlo is that he always carried the Bible with him. We didn't talk about religion very much, other than as people often do, is there a God, what is the meaning of life, stuff like that, late at night, drinking wine at outdoor cafes in Trastevere. I liked him. He was friendly, intelligent, articulate.” 

Toth was apprehended and charged with crimes that would have brought a nine-year prison sentence, had he been convicted. In the end the court found him insane.  Italian psychiatrists claimed that Toth had the IQ of a genius.  His treatment included being subjected to 12 rounds of electro-shock treatment. After two years Toth was deported back to Australia.

*** Jesus:  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another”  (John 13:34).

These are some of the most distressing words Jesus ever spoke.  Because we just can’t do this thing, love as God loves (except, possibly, for Mother T and Dorothy D).  We can sell everything we own, we can turn the other cheek, we can hug lepers (or pay others to hug them for us) all of which may leave our egos in tact, but we can not love as God loves, and sometimes when I read this ‘commandment’ it makes me frustrated or depressed.  And sometimes a bit pissed off.  Maybe if Jesus would have put it like one of my other teachers, the highly esteemed Kabbalist Baal HaSulam:  “Love one another as much as you can, as much as you love yourselves. Sympathize with your friend’s adversity, and rejoice in his joy as much as you can” (Baal HaSulam, Pri Hacham, A Sage’s Fruit, Letters, p. 54.).  This is a challenging teaching form HaSulam, but it’s doable. If only Jesus would have been a bit more realistic about our capabilities and cut us some slack.  

‘Take up your own much as you can.’ 

But no.  Jesus sounds a bit like CIA chief Russell Crowe admonishing his agent Leonardo DiCaprio in the middle-east spy thriller “Body of Lies.”  DiCaprio seems to be losing focus on the big picture (securing the power of the american empire) and starts allowing his concern for actual human beings to compromise his mission (killing suspected ‘terrorists’ or whoever).  

DiCaprio:  When they find him, they are gonna torture him and they are gonna kill him.
Crowe:      You gotta decide which side of the cross you're on. I need nailers, not hangers.
DiCaprio:  Decision's already done. I'm bringing him in.
Crowe:      Ain't nobody innocent in this shit. Okay?

Nailers or hangers?  Surely there are more options available than that?

***  A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music. People crowd around the poet and say to him: "Sing for us soon again;" that is as much to say, "May new sufferings torment your soul.”  Kierkegaard (?).

Woman of Many Sorrows
Above is a simple, small (12" X 20") Icon of Mary Magdalene I call “The Woman of Many Sorrows,” that I just completed.  It depicts Mary as she weeps at the foot of the cross.  Below is perhaps my last lenten poem:

Noli Me Tangere

I.  Chorus of Women:  

From Eden to Gethsemane we have borne unjust shame
But this time there was no woman in the garden to blame
The serpent silently coiled around the minds of weaker men
The serpents enemies were Mary and Mary from Magdalene

II. Mary Magdalene:  

I had tarried on the road from Emmaus to Jerusalem
Got lost on the far side of the valley of tombs
When I was told, when I knew what I had always known
I ran the length from the gate of lions to the place of skulls
But when I found you, you were already spiked to the sky
Where were your brothers, uncles, and sons
Where were your two fathers?

Had I been there in the garden
I would not have slept
I would not have left you alone
I would not have ‘put up’ my sword
I would have destroyed the temple to save you
I would have screamed at those cowards and fools
I would have fought the emperor and his soldiers 
I would have blasphemed the fraudulent priests of Hashem
I would have torn down the city of Jerusalem stone by stone 
I would have rent the veil and left the sacred places desolate
I would have answered your prayers
I would have have held your bruised face in my hands
I would have wiped the blood and tears from your eyes
I would have given my life for you

But I was not there in the garden that night
There were no mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, grandmothers,
There were no women in the garden that night

And still only the only doubters may touch you  


Monday, March 18, 2013

Klediments:  Popes, Poets, and Poverty.  

***  Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.  James: 5. v. 4.

Wherever you see poor working you will find angels gathering their sweat and tears like diamonds.

*** I Don’t Know What To Say. (by saint Dom Helder Camara). 

If I could
I would leave dropping money
in the poor pockets
fallen of fatigue and of hunger
on banks of abandoned gardens.
If I could
I would leave filling of rest and of dreams
the unslept nights of the desperate ones.
If I could
- oh! if I could -
it would drive away of the earth the distrust
that tarnish the clearest glances
and turns cloudy the cleanest horizons...
I don't know what I say, Lord!
If you leave on earth
the poverty, the insomnia and the distrust
it is because they translate a message
ciphered for the men
and they don't enter just by chance
in the life of anybody.
Rio de Janeiro, 04/25/48

I lived half my childhood/teen years doing migrant field and orchard work for minimum wage or less.  I don’t idealize poverty or work that grinds down the body and soul.  Yet, against all our reckoning, ‘blessed are the poor.’  The 30 year old painting above was inspired by fellow workers in the field North of Los Angeles.

*** Langston Hughes

“Hang yourself poet,
In your own words
Otherwise, you are dead.”

*** Meeting the new Pope (same trailer park, different trailer?).

                                  *hugs* (((THE POOR))) *hugs*

"And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars.... Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!"  Pope Francis.

You know, being poor is something that we (the rich, church) could actually pull off.  Of course there’s a lot of sacrifice involved and it will probably hurt like hell, but it isn’t like turning water into wine or walking on water.  Getting poor is pretty simple, even for people without any faith.  Pope Francis and many others, including many of my ambiguously 'spiritual' leftist friends, seem to sort of wistfully ruminate about "The Poor," as if blessed poverty is some unattainable ideal like world peace, when really it’s as achievable as dolphin-free tuna.

In the book/movie “The Shoes of the Fisherman” the Pope begins the process of really divesting the catholic church of it’s wealth and earthly power to actually feed hungry people (and of course by doing so the church shares more in the power of God which increases through solidarity with the poor.  This is why Mother Teresa, and not the Pope, is the most powerful person in the church for me).  But it’s not just the vatican’s religious industrial complex that needs divestment, that’s too easy of a target and becomes just another excuse for all the rest of us to do nothing.  How many times have I heard/read commentators in the last week saying crap like ‘well, let’s hope Pope Francis lives up to his name sake.‘  WTF?  Francis has already taken a vow of poverty, what about the rest of us? Of course there is something we fear even more than sacrificial charity, it is redistributive justice, because sacrifice without love is driven by ego, but just as true, "Love without justice is baloney" (Cardinal Sin of the Philippines).  How long will it be before disillusionment begins with this new Pope and we realize that we are just the same old unfaithful, broken, hypocritical people we were before all the white smoke?

I’m also wondering when riding a bus become a new sign of sainthood or a charism of the church?  If only the rich young ruler had shown Jesus his bus pass!  Maybe he could have hung on to the rest of his investment portfolio.  Then again, Oscar Romero, another bus riding bishop once said before he was martyred for actually serving the poor and challenging the rich, “We must overturn so many idols, the idol of self first of all, so that we can be humble, and only from our humility can we learn to be redeemers, can learn to work together in the way the world really needs. Liberation that raises a cry against others is no true liberation. Liberation that means revolutions of hate and violence and takes away lives of others or abases the dignity of others cannot be true liberty. True liberty does violence to self and, like Christ, who disregarded that he was sovereign becomes a slave to serve others.”  Is Pope Francis really calling for us to do “violence to ourselves,” to become slaves of others, and to radically dispossess ourselves of our property or is this just fanciful inauguration rhetoric, and all to quickly the “church” will get back to the business of the conformation and maintenance of securing the power of it’s religious super-structure?  Our beloved Kabbalist Tzadik Benjamin warned us against this very danger in his sixth thesis on history:  “In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes as the subduer of Antichrist.”  Ad maiorem Dei.

*** So that brings us to the next in my lenten poem series.  It’s sort of themed around Mardi Gras so I’m about a month late, sorry.

Fat Tuesday


Surmounting limitations of poor drainage
New Orleans persistently clings
To it’s Acadian heritage of octaroon of parentage
Situated like an open zipper below the bible belt
New Orleans prospers on the yearly tithes
Of pietist Middle-america
Rome having cut a deal with the devil
Bargained away one week before lent
So that early each spring, like a fat ox
Paraded through the streets of Paris Tuesday
As groundhogs stagger from sodden huts
Dormant sap still frozen in their trunks
That great pulsing artery of river starts pumping
Down to the gulf from distant capillaries
As once it travelled Puritan and Huguenot
Into virgin frontiers today it
Barges oxygen blue zydeco and citronella sweat
Glands budding on danced out pagan skin shines
Swelling from every costume ripped and torn open seams
Come busting out reeling civil servants and ranch hands
Career women counter help feed-store hay-buckers
Combination tractor trailer migrants and junior college deans
Barmaids with chafed elbows and short order cooks
Pumping gas porno star bus driving seed potato plunk-down
Roustabouts and oiled up steel-mill workers
Pentecostal bail bondsmen skinny white boys burning hot
As orange flames for more white powder and all of them just
One mask away from a double vein pop to the farthest shore
And back into the arms of  their black mother saviours
Redeeming the son’s and daughter’s of foreign masters
Guelphs, Gibellines, Wallensians and Cathars
Successive waves  of covered wagon proxies
Until everything wild is annually subdued
And everyone is back to nicely multiplying
Each according to it’s own nature
Plough-shares cutting deeply into furrowed thighs
Absorbing, swelling with more seed each season the
Tectonic spread zone dangerously expanding
Between available and allowable meanings
The face side and faced side of a carnival mask
Until flowing like liquid magma
Onto those big easy streets
Squandering the harvest of a years virtue
To fall as far as half the angels
And half as far as not returning


On average the city sits 5 feet below the water line
By law burial of the dead occurs above ground
Metaphors of actual burials
Visible genealogies and timely
Reminders of bodily corruption
During great floods buoyant coffins float freely
About the Queen city transgressing all boundaries
Between caste and color, haves and have nots
Signified by Canal street the main binary causeway
In every american city regardless of water where
Life is lived on the dividing line of habitable oppositions
The face side and faced side of this place or any place
East where the Creoles first settled
West where later arriving whites invested
North around horseshoe bend
Where the blacks gave early warning that yellow fever
Was breaking from the Mississippi towards Lake Pontchartrain
Heading towards the peach groves of Lake Shore Vista
And Gentilly Terrace located seven miles and
That many virtues from Gretna, Harvey and Terrytown
Parts of the city you already know without knowing
Without having ever been there or anyone explaining it to you
Gentilly Terrace or Terrytown, you just know
Habitual as boulevards changing costumes
Crossing the canal to Tchouptitoula
Where Royal changes to Saint Charles and then to Basin
Basin becomes Elk place before merging into Loyola then it
Becomes Earhart, for just a dint, before
Promoting itself to Simon Bolivar
Keep and eye on the signs
They tell you where you are
And who you are
Gentilly Terrace or Terrytown
You just know.


Our Lady of Holy Cross
Looks down with affection and care
On Storytown and Jelly-Roll Morton
And all those hookers troiling the Vieux Carre’
The Te Deum rises through the fog of scarlet fever hearts
A music only the instruments themselves understand
A full seventh above the installment card laughter
That evens the pain out over 12 sufferable months
One third of a continent deposits it’s sediment on these streets
From it’s headwaters at Itasca Minnesota
Gathering slag and speed from Minneapolis/St. Paul
Mercury and sulfur from the quad cities
Wit and wisdom from Hannibal Missouri
And just below St. Louis outside of Cape Giardeaux
between Thebes and Ware (pronounced Wahray)
On a gentle bend in the Mississippi
The federal marker commemorating the trail of tears
A destination worth a trip in itself some time
But we’re caught in the current sweeping past Memphis
The water gaining stride on the longest stretch
From Graceland to Vicksburg like many Southern cities
it was starved into surrendering, it’s salvation give over to
General Grant who offered a host of sacrifices to Our Lady
Gathering a great victory of bodies into the river
Floating them down across all dividing lines
As far away from remembrance
As the sins of righteous meeting
The baptized souls of Baton Rouge
Mixing in and carried down, down
Flooding through the delta
Pouring onto the streets of the French quarter
Slushing, oozing, and slurping over
A saline tide seeking it’s own level
Until the cauterizing sun draws up to heaven
All the sinful infected moistures into herself
Forgiveness scorched into the hearts of repentant sinners
Until all that remains is the leaven of the pharisees
Pumped each Easter over the Bonnet Carre spillway
Into the available and infinite sea


Monday, March 11, 2013

Klediments:   Death....

"I still cling to Christ and trust in my doctors and nurses. Ever onward to victory! We will live and overcome!" -- Hugo Chavez's last tweet.

The painting above (40X30 in.) is of the 13 th. Station of the Cross,  “Jesus is taken down from the cross.”  It it the second piece I have done where I sculpted parts of a body and had them break out of the picture plane.

*** Another of my lenten poems:


We forget that we rose from the dead once already
Through bloody mucus and love cries
That light also brought pain to our eyes
It took years to get on our feet after that

Three days later and
Who would even recognize themselves
That first look on our faces is always so...
Astonished, that’s the word I would choose to call it
Unless you know of a better one

By now the bleeding has stopped
The wounds have closed up, scarred over
Bodies have been cleaned up and dressed
Made ready to meet the whole of the family

So many kinds of things have been forgotten
In the drama of it all.  But what’s important 
Even if our names were given before we were
The very idea of us is still worth mentioning

**** I wrote a while back about studying a book on Japanese death poetry.  The Idea of these poems and poets was to write a poem at the very moment of one’s death, with one foot in each world so to speak, and to possibly leave behind some wisdom to share with the living.  The poems are not composed ahead of time but must really be written just as one is in the act of dying (at least that is the theory, I don’t know who polices such things for the Japanese and just where the cut-off points are or the technicalities around suicide).  Perhaps the ‘death tweet‘ can become the same sort of thing for the 21 st. century?  In the meantime here are some traditional selections:

Sunao’s death poem.  He  died in 1926.

Spitting blood
clears up reality
and dream alike

Ota Dokan (d.1486) was stabbed while taking a bath and spoke this poem:

Has I no known
that I was dead
I would have mourned
my loss of life

The mistreated married woman Oroku (d. 1690?) killed herself and left this poem”

And had my days been longer
still the darkness
would not leave this world--
along death’s path, among the hills
I shall behold the moon 

Two poems from the famous monk/poet Basho:

The dying priest
looks as if
he new it all

The last of human desire
he grasps at
the air

During his last moment, Zen master Shisui’s disciples requested that he write a death poem. He grasped his brush, painted a circle, cast the brush aside, and died. The circle— indicating the void, the essence of everything, enlightenment.

Let me end with one by the revered Daido Ichpi (d. 1370).

A tune on non-being
Filling the void
Spring sun
Snow whiteness
Bright clouds
Clear winds

Allow me to add my own little poem about death:

A Little Ditty On Death

(technically, I wrote this while still mostly having both feet in this world, but then often one never really knows, it might end up a death poem, makes me a bit cautious about finishing it).

Death is all around now
(what we call death)
Taking one best friend after another
Grand mothers and still-born sons
Celebrities and nobodies
Whatshisname at the hardware store
Who knew where everything was
But some really important people too
The President of Venezuela and
Jean at church we all called a saint
And that slow waitress at Skippers cafe, Anne
Who was really nice just the same
(no one even guessed she was sick!)
Chicago bluesman Magic Slim died
And Judy Kozak the first playboy bunny
Lots of other good people too
Going then gone
I’m sick to death of it
(what we call death)

**** Third Station Of The Cross:  Jesus Falls For The First Time

I haven’t finished my poem for the third station of the cross yet (I am way behind in my commitments) so let me offer this about meaning and prayer that I wrote a while back when my wife and I had some time before dinner on our anniversary Feb.14th.  Since the restaurant was nearby we decided to kill some time by stopping by the chapel at Providence hospital in Everett.  We wanted to visit the chapel and re-read the prayers that our family have written into the prayer request book over the years.  However, our prayers were missing and in their place was a new prayer book that only went back a few months.  The Catholic chaplain that I have come to know pretty well over the years popped by and told me that they go through one or two books a year these days so together we went off searching for the old filled up prayer books.  After a lot of rummaging around we found all the previous prayer books going all the way back to 1936.  Over 70 years of prayers all stacked up on shelves in a dank storage room.  In those prayer books there is so much desperate sorrow, shameless pleading, even some anger and hatred, and a lot of tear stained pages.  But there is also some joy and thankfulness and a lot of honesty and insight not found often enough in our ordinary lives.

It took awhile but the priest found the book from when my wife had open heart surgery 3 years ago and in it were all the prayers of the children and grandchildren and many friends and all of my own prayers too, answered prayers too as grace would have it.   He left me to keep researching by myself and it took awhile but I found the old prayer book form 1982 when one of my daughters had suffered a terrible head injury after falling from our moving car.  I had forgotten but over the next few weeks in the hospital I had written about a dozen prayers.

Head injuries are perplexing and hard to diagnose, and for the first few hours after the accident it seemed that my daughter was alright so she was sent home from the doctors office with bruises and with bandaids on scratches.  But then about an hour or so later her eyesight in one eye began to fail then her right arm went numb, then she couldn’t walk or even stand up, then a more profound paralysis set in, then it got much worse.  Let me say, It’s much harder to go from bad news to good news, and then back to bad news, to even worse news; to go from hearing that “your daughter seems to be fine so just take her home” (thank you, thank you Jesus!) to, “we’re sorry, your daughter is bleeding in her brain and we just can’t stop it ”(No! God No!). 

Turns out I am really not a very good prayer after all, I never have been.  Most of my prayers were kinda like this one:  “Dear Jesus please heal my daughter, please let her live, please let her walk again, don’t let her die, thank you, I’m sorry.” You know, that sort of thing.  Really quite simple, ordinary, unsophisticated, like so many of the other prayers written in these prayer books and prayed each moment everywhere in the world.  And although I didn’t remember any of my actual prayers, I had never forgotten the fear and the pain.  I am almost sure though that God remembers all of our prayers.  But if not, I have copies of my prayers on file now.  And on the last day when God is finished examining my life and deeds, my words and works, then I can open up my own book and God can watch those prayers fly from the pages again like furious spirits unbound.


Life size sculpture with my death mask

Friday, March 8, 2013

I’m taking a break from poetry to write a bit about Mother Teresa.

Questioning questioning? There are several articles making the rounds on facebook and blogs etc., questioning, exposing, criticizing, debunking, indicting, Mother Teresa and her 55 years of work with the poor that I find very vexing. I am an ardent admirer of Mother Teresa so to be honest my first reaction is a defensive one. But before considering engaging the accusations I want to offer a passage from Derrida’s last book/interview before he died, “Jacques Derrida, Learning to Live Finally, The Last Interview.” Derrida is being asked by Jean Birnbaum about the university and it’s relationships with the dynamics of ‘knowledge/power’ and the freedom of inquiry within the university system etc., and of course Kant and Heidegger are always lurking in the background behind all of these kinds of questions. Then Birnbaum asked Derrida about “holocaust deniers” and then they explore the limits of questioning itself. Derrida affirms holocaust denier Robert Faurisson’s right to questioning within the university but interestingly not his right to affirm (publish, promote, assert?) conclusions that Derrida says are “unacceptable from the point of view of attested and proven truth” (48). I am a mere Derrida dilettante and not a philosopher but that phrase “attested and proven truth” coming from Derrida really got my attention. Kind of like if Jesus’ last words on the cross were something like ‘my father my father why have you forsaken me.‘

(This is a link to an article that set me to the task of thinking about Mother Teresa )

My questions: are there certain questions, events, actualities that have been answered or affirmed so conclusively, like the holocaust event, that their truth should not and can not be un-affirmed? And how does the structural context of such questioning affect the possibility of questioning, of “attesting” (which I think some precocious doctoral student aught to pounce on for a dissertation). Does the life and work of Mother Teresa fit Derrida’s possible criteria that some propositions can be canonized by ‘attested proven truth?‘ (whatever that might be?). And further, can some kinds of testimony become sanctified by their accordance with the Holy Spirit?

The questioning of the article above asks something like: ‘did Mother T’s theology prevent her from alleviating suffering in some significant ways?’  First, for some reason even asking something like ‘what was Mother T’s theology’ strikes me as problematic.  I know many of us spend a lot time trying to get words/sentences rightly ordered in appealing ways, or into combinations that make sense to us, or fulfill some perceived need for control or understanding, or structured in such a way that we think will help us make our way in the world, but I don’t think that that those sorts of language exercises really interested Mother T.  I have read about everything she ever wrote, but if I had a chance to talk to her it would probably not even occur to me to ask her about her “theology.”

I just now opened up her diaries at a random bookmark.  On page 275 she writes “Give Jesus a big smile--each time your nothingness frightens you.”  Now I would never say something like that to anybody, and if I did they should punch me in the nose.  But when she says to 'smile at Jesus,' those words dialogically hold more power and authority for me and over me.  Even reading it again just now, I feel some surgence of faith and hope as if I have been existing in dark room and through the wall a mouse size hole of light has broken in and it beams some small ray of glorious light into my darkness.  Remember, Mother Teresa started out by just picking up people who were dying alone in the street, loading them into a wheel barrow, carting them home and washing the shit and street sludge off of them and giving them some cleaner blankets to die in, holding them in her arms, praying for them (and not trying to convert them).  And she and just a few others did this for 20 years before anyone even noticed.  So when Mother Teresa tells me to smile at Jesus, I try to fu#%king smile at Jesus!  I remember when she first gained some celebrity after Muggeridge’s book and movie came out in the early seventies.  Lots of “radicals,” christian and otherwise, criticized her for wasting time and energy helping out individual poor people instead of leading a revolution against the oppressive systems causing the poverty and suffering in the first place.  I have read and watched many interviews with her where she is asked this same kind of question over and over year after year.  She always gave the same answer which was some version of the following, ‘...this is what Jesus has called me to do.  You ask Jesus what you should do and go do that.‘  She drove both the ‘vulgar Marxists’ and the fundamentalist conservatives nuts.  Here is an example in an interview with her by super-conservative ‘intellectual,’ William Buckley:

 ( ).

Now in this interview Mother Teresa does not say what the article above claims is a quote from her (without any sourcing, and I have not been able to find it anywhere).  The article “quotes” Mother Teresa saying:  “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.”  I don’t think that this quote is from Mother T.  I think it is from Christopher Hitchen’s version of his misunderstanding of what Mother Teresa said in this interview.  That is, that our suffering allows us to share in the suffering of Christ, as Christ shares in our suffering, and that in that sharing and revealing something beautiful in manifested in the world.  These are the words of a mystic and a saint not a theologian or philologist as we usually talk about them, and I know I can’t fully understand what she means.  I have tried most of my life to look at the pain and suffering of humanity and those I love as an expression of Christ’s presence in the world and in my life.  But it is very hard to sustain and live that kind of belief, an impossible possibility really.  William Buckley (like so many of us) can not see, feel, or think, beyond the horizon of his ideological mind-scape and he and Mother Teresa don’t even seem to be inhabiting the same kind of conceptual space in this interview.  Like too much derivative philosophy/theology he is trying to play a game of scrabble with her, to score the most bonus points, to win an intellectual game by puzzling together an impressive matrix of inter-connecting lexemes.  It becomes just another form of sophisticated fundamentalism that gives us the illusion of control and accomplishment.  So when Buckley asks her about all those poor wretches that Mother Teresa *isn’t* helping he thinks he has shown how his pragmatic/libertarian/republicanism has triumphed over her naive and puny efforts at engaging the problems of the ‘real world.”  But is Buckley really making any sense either inside or outside of his own logical positivist tautologies?

Mother Teresa just responds by saying that helping the poor is helping Jesus, what else is she going to say, what else does she need to say?  Jesus spoke to her many times, she heard his actual voice tell her to go to india and minister to the poorest of the poor, and that attesting voice is what it all comes down to.  All of it.  Everything, for any of us.  We have nothing else to go on in this world, no superior authority, no supra-affirming, ontic, validating source.   God said stuff like: “help the poor, love your neighbor and enemies and sluts, move mountains, take up a cross, etc..  But people also believe that God said stuff like: “kill those Hittites, cut off the ends of your pricks, don’t eat bacon, drop atomic bombs on people, fly airplanes into buildings, kill sluts, and don’t touch this, them, or that, oh and I’ll be back from heaven really soon so y’all just wait up on your roof tops....”  Push all of those words, commands, and affirmations around a scrabble board all you want to, but the only way off the game board is for the Spirit to snatch you right up into the sky and out of this world and into another one.  Sometimes the Spirit puts you back on the board and sometimes She doesn’t (there just may be an outside the text after all!).  And that’s what happened to Mother Teresa, and so she became, as she says, “a victim of God’s love.”

I have read Mother Teresa’s diaries and I know how often that she felt God had abandoned her, how many years she heard no voice telling what to do.  Is it possible that she got it wrong?   And as some of her critics ask, could she have figured out better or more ‘significant ways to alleviate suffering?‘  Should she have led a militant cabal of ninja nuns in her spare time at night and carried out strategic political assassinations of the capitalist pigs?  I think if Jesus told her to, she would have done just that.  But I know how much self-questioning Mother Teresa went through, and she does she seem self-delusional or psychotic to me, and there does not seem to be deep fissures between what Jesus spoke, what Mother Teresa spoke, what she believed, and what she did.  Rather, the deep fissures that I encounter are between the lived faith of this blessed saint and my own pathetic failings and frivolous musings.

Blessings and obliged.