There is a story told about Mother Theresa that goes to the heart of life and its deepest purpose and meaning.
A fat Indian businessman dripping with gold and jewels came one day to visit Mother Theresa, fell at her feet, and shouted, ‘You are so holy! You have given up everything! Look at my belly: I cannot even give up one samosa for breakfast, not one single chapatti for lunch can I give up, and look at you living in this terrible room with only one bed and desk; you have given up everything.’
Mother Theresa started to laugh so hard the nuns who were in the room with her grew scared (she was in her middle 80’s and fragile from two recent heart attacks). Eventually, she stopped laughing and, wiping her eyes with one hand, she leaned forward with the other to help the businessman to his knees.
She put her bony hands on her hips and said with a smile, ‘So you say I have given up everything?’
The businessman nodded passionately.
Mother Theresa’s smile grew broader. ‘My dear man,’ she said, ‘You are so wrong. It isn’t I who has given up everything; it is you. It is you who have given up the one true lasting joy of life, the source of all permanent happiness, the joy of giving your life away to other beings, the joy of serving God in all of them, and giving all you are and all you have to all of them with compassion. Don’t you understand it is you who are the great renunciate’?
And then, to the businessman’s total shock, Mother Theresa got down on her knees and bowed to him. Flinging up his hands and screeching like a parrot he ran out of the room.
The great secret that Mother Theresa was trying to share with the businessman is the great secret that all the world’s mystics and prophets are trying to wake us up to – that lasting happiness, true joy, real serenity and deep meaning spring only from true love of God, the world and all sentient beings – a true love that expresses itself tirelessly in wise, urgent, compassionate action.
The other side of this great secret – also told us by the world’s traditions – is that this loving action leads not only to lasting inner joy but also to profound transformation of outer reality – Robert Kennedy put it brilliantly: ‘Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.’
It is to these two truths that I am dedicating my life and my work. I have come to understand that when the joy of compassionate action is married to a radical and practical drive to transform all economic, social and political institutions, a potentially all transforming holy force is born. This holy force I have called ‘Sacred Activism’ and I believe it is the one force that can help us transform the crazy, menacing chaos of our exploding world crisis into a magnificent opportunity to remake all we are and all we do in and under God. May this vision inspire you to work with us in Sacred Activism.
Andrew Harvey, author of The Direct Path  and The Hope