If you have read this blog even a bit, you know my feelings about Mother Teresa. I had the great honor and privilege to meet her twice in Kolkata, in 1985 and 1994. I have written posts about her before, and continue to be deeply inspired by her life and the sisters who carry on her work since her death in 1997.
This week here in India I had the blessing of visiting a work among the widows, orphans and destitute run by dear friends of ours that we have known and been colleagues with for 27 years. On the wall of the school was a quote by Mother Teresa that I had seen before, yet it hit me again with its simple power. I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.
This was Mother Teresa’s life message, casting those stones of faithful merciful acts into the waters of Kolkata, India and the world in a life of over 50 years of service. She achieved international acclaim, unlike many that engage in these same kinds of acts around the world every day. She did not seek this limelight, first coming to her in part through the interview and writings of Malcolm Muggeridge in the late 1970’s. But she did use that global recognition to bring more awareness to the poor, needy and destitute.
I love this quote because it emphasizes that the changing of the world, and history, is not a burden I need to bear alone. But that in a very real way, my acts along with many others can cause a ripple effect that can indeed change the flow of history. History is the story of countless people who have been faithful to their gifts and callings in creating change, one act at a time. Conversely, it is also the story of many who lived contrary to calling, bringing damage and pain in their wake.
There was nothing foreordained (at least in her own mind) about a teenage Albanian woman who longed to change her world. She went into her twenties with a growing desire to go outside her country and serve, with India becoming the focus as the years went on. She became a nun to give more full expression to that calling to serve, and arrived in Kolkata having no idea that she would found a new order in the Catholic Church, the Missionaries of Charity, in the years to come. This was Mother Teresa.
I have a sense of calling in my life to bring out more of the stories of those that would not be as known as Mother Teresa, particularly in Asia in the story of the Church of the East. It is heartening today that more and more in the writing of global history we are hearing the stories of those that have indeed changed history, particularly the peoples of the land, the minorities, the women. Many that have not been written about, that have been forgotten. These histories are slowly being integrated into the previously told stories, creating a more full account of what happened.
It will never of course be complete, as many stories are unknown or have no documentation able to be studied and passed on. But we must keep digging, and seeking to uncover those acts and lives that caused ripples that changed history. And of course keep seeking ourselves to be ‘ripple-makers’ in whatever way we can in our own world.
One act at a time.