"What is this babbler trying to say?" Acts 17:18

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Something Beautiful for God

How does one write a biography that opens with the statement that it is not a “biography or biographical study?” One way Malcolm Muggeridge does this in Something Beautiful for God, his book on Mother Teresa, is by making it his own quasi memoir of his acquaintance with her. The result is that one knows almost as much about Muggeridge as about Mother Teresa by the end of the book; which isn’t a bad thing.

This English journalist, social critic, and Christian apologist is good reading so far, although this is the first of his books I have read. I found his musings on various peripheral topics to be just as interesting as the way he treats the ostensible subject of the book. On abortion for instance, he says: “either life is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account; it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and in some the other” (23). Tying this philosophical fact into the world of Mother Teresa he asserts: “the notion that there could in any circumstances be too many children was, to her, as inconceivable as suggesting that there are too many bluebells in the woods or stars in the sky” (23).

Again, seemingly with the intent of explaining why, as an admirer and writer about Mother Teresa, he is not Catholic, he devotes a disproportionate number of pages in this slim volume to explaining how it is “impossible for me to accept her way of looking at the Church’s present predicament, or to see it as other than an institution which a mortal hierarchy and priesthood can make or mar, sustain or let collapse” (39).

Considered as a biography of Mother Teresa the book is scanty at best, only a minimal outline of her life and daily work among the “poorest of the poor” is given. 50 pages are set apart for devotionals and thoughts from Mother Teresa and a BBC transcript of an interview that Muggeridge conducted (incidentally, the BBC documentary filmed in India by Muggeridge was also called Something Beautiful for God).

Some of Mother Teresa’s wisdom was well worth reading. On the Christian walk: “We must become holy, not because we want to feel holy, but because Christ must be able to live his life fully in us” (47). On blogging (yes, she is very relevant): “the essential thing is not what we say, but what God says to us and through us. All our words will be useless unless they come from [him]—words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness” (48).

In case you are wondering who Malcolm Muggeridge is as I once did, consider what Peter Kreeft says about him: “after Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkien, there is no one I would rather read than Muggeridge. A Johnny-come-lately convert to Christianity, he is also a great wordsmith.” Doesn’t that say it all and pique your interest?

Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God (New York: Image Books 1977).

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