Attributing human emotions to God — such as rage, jealousy or loneliness — is always metaphorical. The scriptures are rife with anthropomorphic devices depicting both God’s kindness and anger. Poets often take great license with this. 

Emily Dickinson wrote:
God is indeed a jealous God —
He cannot bear to see
That we had rather not with Him
But with each other play. 

She has a point though. It is undeniable that God wants our companionship, our love and, yes, even our enjoyment of his presence, much like anyone of us who enjoys a sport or an outing with good friends. This should hardly surprise us who believe in a Trinitarian God whose very nature is relational: three divine Persons “crazy in love,” revolving around each other for all eternity. 

No wonder God wants to be enjoyed. God is essentially good, loving and giving – and such things must be shared. From our own experience we know the thrill of loving someone and wanting the whole world to know, beginning with the beloved. It is painful and lonely not to be able to tell of this love and to know the love is received and valued.

How often we read of the desire of Jesus to express his love. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!” (Mt. 23:37), Jesus laments. In the garden of Gethsemane, when “he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? (Mt. 26:40). And the next day, “about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” — which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). It cannot be denied that Jesus felt the pain of loneliness and, ironically, irrelevance.

Loneliness is an experience of abandonment, of being neglected, ignored, rejected or simply deprived of the presence of a companion. It is especially painful when the absent one is the beloved who, whether by some intention or circumstance, is just not there. During this enduring pandemic, so many of us have experienced the brutality of separation, in some cases unable to be with or even communicate with a loved one in a hospital or a nursing facility. On a lesser scale, but perhaps no less consequential for them, children have been separated from their classmates. Is there any way to see such loneliness as anything less than emptiness and desolation?

Mother Teresa, we were later to learn, experienced deep spiritual dryness called acedia for much of her life. This revelation from her journals, published posthumously, was shocking to many who had considered her the epitome of joyful service. They could not understand this revered woman who appeared to be so joyful could have been “faking” her piety for all those decades! This seemed all the more striking as Mother Teresa accounted for earlier experiences of great, even mystical consolation, especially at the moment she discovered her “vocation within a vocation” to go to India and serve the poorest of the poor.

Mother Teresa explains, however, how she came to value this aridity as an intimate invitation to share the thirst for souls of Jesus himself. In effect, she discerned that this was a gift of love from Jesus who himself experienced this intense yearning for the hearts of his beloved, that is, each and every one of us.

So Mother Teresa teaches us from her own yearnings how Jesus himself feels about us and the love he longs for from our hearts. How often have we turned our passions and cravings toward other things, lesser things than Jesus himself!

It is possible, in fact, it may be probable, that the sense of isolation and abandonment that we may be experiencing in these times with the challenges of this pandemic, may be an invitation to turn more decisively to the heart of Jesus himself, as Mother Teresa did. Not that, throughout her own suffering, she did not cease to be a joyful, loving person. Jesus never lost his affection for his disciples, his missionary spirit, even when he was outright rejected by friends or even family.

Pope Francis, in a recent op-ed, wrote: “To come out of this pandemic better than we went in, we must let ourselves be touched by others’ pain” (New York Times, Nov. 26, 2020). “You see faces looking for life and love in the reality of each person, of each people. You see hope written in the story of every nation, glorious because it’s a story of daily struggle, of lives broken in self-sacrifice. So rather than overwhelm you, it invites you to ponder and to respond with hope.” This sounds very much akin to the spirit that drove Mother Teresa into the slums of Kolkata. It sounds like the anguish that drew blood from the pores of Jesus the night before he died and, finally, on the Cross from which he poured out his life for us.

God does not live locked in the sacristies, the safe spaces of our lives but in the highways and byways, and often the detours. Officials may be constrained to enforce various lockdowns or closures, often with no viable alternatives, but nothing should deter us from our mission as disciples of Jesus to do the works of mercy and bring the loving heart of God to everyone we can to soothe the loneliness that oppresses the soul in the absence of God. God is that presence that fills and heals the lonely soul. And, as Jesus himself revealed to us, God knows and moves into the love-thirsting heart. May we go wherever the heart of Jesus leads us.

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