“I thirst”: in every form of human suffering Mother Teresa heard the words spoken by the crucified Christ. The vision which she held out to us was of Christ crying out for love in the broken bodies of the poor (whatever form that poverty might take) and of Christ simultaneously offering himself as spiritual sustenance in the broken bread of the Eucharist in order that that cry might not go without response. Deep in the hearts and bodies of humanity Christ was actual and real. In touching the poor she was touching Christ. Christ continued to suffer in Kolkata, New York, Paris and London. Christ continued to save there too, and Christ continued to rise to new life.
“See Christ in everyone you meet,” was Mother Teresa’s unrelenting directive, and the necessary condition of doing so was prayer: looking contemplatively. But what does it really mean to see Christ in those we encounter? Most obviously ideally it determines the quality of our approach to and relationship with others. But with the awakening of the years, for me the implications of Mother Teresa’s vision have grown.
The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh uses very different vocabulary. He talks, for example, about looking deeply (meditatively) into a sheet of paper which was there previously in the form of a tree, in the form of the sunshine, the form of a cloud, and the rain, in the form of minerals and the earth, all of which were necessary in order for that paper to become manifest. For Thich Nhat Hanh that piece of paper speaks: “I have come from the cosmos. I have been a tree. I have been a cloud. I have been sunshine and so on.” If one of these elements were to be returned to its origin, the sheet of paper would no longer be there. All these conditions lie in the paper. If the sunshine were returned to the sun, there would be no sheet of paper. So it is that the sunshine is in the paper and when we touch the sheet of paper, we touch the sunshine, we touch the cloud, the rain, the earth, the whole of the cosmos. When we can be in touch with the paper in a state of awakened understanding, we are in touch with the whole of existence. The sheet of paper has no birthday and nor do we. We were not manifest without the satisfaction of numerous conditions, from nothing, independently of the inheritance that made up our ancestry. If we look with the eyes of a meditator, we will see those we meet and our own bodies as sacred homes of all that has gone before and the source of future generations. Thich Nath Hanh speaks of birthdays as “Continuation Days” and if it is true that a birthday is a continuation day then so too is the day of our death. “If your practice is strong, at the moment of dying you will sing a song of happy continuation.”