“She gave herself to Christ and through him to her neighbor. This was the end of her biography and the beginning of her life.”
These words, written by Malcolm Muggeridge concerning the life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, have haunted me ever since I read them, ironically, in his short biography of her.
I love biographies. I love delving deeply into the lives of people who interest me, seeing what made them tick and being both shocked and reassured by their limitations and humanity. If I am honest (and I suspect most humans would have to agree), I wouldn’t mind living a significant life that merited a biography (even if it were only read by my progeny).
What haunts me about those words, “the end of her biography and the beginning of her life,” is that the very thing that made Mother Teresa’s life so worthy of biography is that she stopped caring about her biography. The reason we seek to remember her life is that she lost her self and her story in the people and places around her.
The same pattern seems to hold true of Dorothy Day, yet another fascinating woman of God, who at the end of her storied life of social activism for the faith, wrote the following, as quoted in Foster’s Streams of Living Water.
“I try to think back; I try to remember this life that the Lord gave me; the other day I wrote down the words, ‘a life remembered,’ and I was going to make a summary for myself, write what mattered most- but I couldn’t do it. I just sat there and thought of our Lord, and His visit to us all those centuries ago, and I said to myself that my great luck was to have had Him on my mind for so long in my life.”
I am a self-obsessed person, which is only accentuated by the fact that I live in a self-obsessed culture. I want you and everyone to think I am brilliant and thoughtful, generous and gentle. I want to make a splash. I want to leave behind a biography.
But if what I am reading is correct, Muggeridge and Day seem to be saying that life begins when our obsession with our own biography ends. If it were just a reporter or an activist who said such things, I would think the findings suspect. The problem is that they seem to be merely reiterating a poetic yet problematic statement of Jesus Christ, one whose words I take to be the very words of God Himself.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:39.
These are not philosophic musings from a man who lived in a bubble, these are the words of God who became man and came to earth to live the very statement. He did not merely lose His life, He willingly, resolutely gave it up, laid it down to the point of an unjust death. He did this to secure the life that is truly life for an undeserving people.
His life was completely hidden in the gaze of the Father, His mouth spoke the words the Father initiated, He sought the Father’s will, even to His own discomfort unto death. His life was utterly beyond biography.
He calls us to live in the same manner, pouring ourselves into the people and places around us while simultaneously being held and contained in the hands of our Father.
Moving beyond biography and into life is so very hard. When our natural inclination is to claim our rights, He calls us to lay them down. When our flesh wants to by a noisy gong, He calls us to love quietly, often in unseen ways. When we want to be concerned with leaving our mark, He continues to press us in uncomfortable ways until our hearts and lives are indelibly marked with the Cross.
I can’t imagine my life continually being beyond biography. To be honest, a whole day in that manner seems impossible to me. However, my mind can comprehend taking the next moment, the next task and offering it unto Christ.
A moment offered unto Christ through the Spirit’s empowerment becomes a day, becomes a week, becomes a month, becomes a year.
In this manner, moment by little moment, may we become a people who live beyond biography and unto Christ.