What I Learned From A 1656-Year-Old Dead Man: Part 4

Augustine of Hippo

The final installment of musings with the Catholic father of Africa.

“Yet there is alight I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God – a light,voice, odor, food, embrace of my inner man, where my soul is floodlit by lightwhich space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, wherethere is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for foodno amount of eating can lessen, and where there is a bond of union that nosatiety can part.  This is what Ilove when I love my God.”

Pure poetry.  Because loving God should make us feelmore alive in a million different ways.
“When I seek foryou, my God, my quest is for the happy life.  I will seek you that my soul may live, for my body deriveslife from my soul, and my soul derives life from you.  How then shall I seek for the happy life?  It is not mine until I say: it isenough, it is there…The happy life is joy based on the truth.”
Because, as I’mseeing a bit more in tangible and physiological and interpersonal ways, in thisthing and that, journeying with Jesus is full of an underlying joy and purposeand contentment not based on externals, but grounded in grace and truth.
“Even if oneperson pursues it in one way, and another in a different way, yet there is onegoal which all are striving to attain, namely to experience joy…There is adelight which is given not to the wicked, but to those who worship you for noreward save the joy that you yourself are to them.  That is the authentic happy life, to set one’s joy onyou, grounded in you, and caused by youThat is thereal thing, and there is no other.  Those who think that the happy life isfound elsewhere, pursue another joy and not the true one.  Nevertheless their will remains drawntowards some image of the true joy.”
My happiness isoft misplaced, too shallow, too easily achieved at a sub-par plateau.  As Clive Staples Lewis has said inyears past:
“It would seemthat Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We arehalf-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition wheninfinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on makingmud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holidayat the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
We must learn toset bigger goals, dream bigger dreams. Perhaps ones which are just out of our reach or ability, so that we cangrow a bigger vision of God.  He isfar too big and deep and vast for us not to explore; an abundant life he offersfar too valuable for us to stop short and call it ‘good enough.’ Open your eyesa little wider.  Get a biggervision.  Dare a little moredangerously.
“O truth,everywhere you preside over all who ask counsel of you…You reply clearly, butnot all hear you clearly.  All askyour counsel on what they desire, but do not always hear what they wouldwish.  Your best servant is theperson who does not attend so much to hearing what he himself wants as towilling what he has heard from you.”
Truth must beacted upon to translate into a personal reality.  Do I merely listen to this truth?  Just acknowledge it in an intellectual sense?  Or do I will this truth into collisionwith my values, priorities, attitudes? Do I really want to grasp a truth that the grand storyteller hasrevealed in my script?  I’d rathernot distort revelations of truth to my own gain; it’s too shortsighted andselfish.  Too easy.  I’d rather engage an active, living,transforming truth that could beautifully wreck my life.
“Late have I lovedyou, beauty so old and so new…You were with me, and I as not with you.  The lovely things kelp me far from you,though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all.  You called and cried out loud andshattered my deafness.  You wereradiant and resplendent, you put to flighty my blindness.  You were fragrant, and I drew in mybreath and now pant after you.  Itasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.  You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peacewhich is yours.”
What does anencounter with a living, dangerous, sovereign deity feel like?  Seems like it should be moreother-worldly than we tend to make it out to be.  Those I’ve spent late nights and early mornings with, sharedstories of hope and loss and pain and revelation with, they make me think thatexperiencing Jesus really could be and really should be a thing ofearth-shattering, heart-breaking overwhelmed-ness.  New life bursting out of the old.  Like a thousand summer suns churning energy over a continentof absurdly overgrown produce fields. Endless ripples from cannonball dives into Africa’s massive LakeVictoria.  A blazing fire acrossheaps of dry brush.  Or somethinglike that.
“My entire hope isexclusively in your very great mercy. Grant what you command, and command what you will…He loves you less whotogether with you loves something which he does not love for your sake.”
I don’t hopeexclusively on the mercy of Jesus. I need to learn what that looks like.  Need to get rid of that which I hope on apart from the storyof the Gospel.  Because unless itis rooted in the Gospel, something will draw me away from dependency on thatmercy.
“When I rememberthe tears which I poured out at the time when I was first recovering my faith,and that now I am moved not by the chant but by the words being sung, when theyare sung with a clear voice and entirely appropriate modulation, then again Irecognize the great utility of music in worship.  Thus I fluctuate between the danger of pleasure and theexperience of the beneficent effect, and I am more led to put forward theopinion (not as an irrevocable view) that in the custom of singing in Church isto be approved so that through the delights of the ear the weaker mind may riseup towards the devotion of worship. Yet when it happens to me that the music moves me more than the subjectof the song, I confess myself to commit a sin deserving punishment, and then Iwould prefer not to have heard the singer.  See my condition! Weep with me and weep for me, you who have within yourselves a concernfor the good, the springs from which good actions proceed.”
See Augustine’sand my other thoughts on music in previous entry, “What I learned from a 1656year old dead man. Parte trey.” Music is good stuff.  Such agreat avenue of worship and transcendence.
“Only you can beasked, only you can be begged, only on your door can we knock.  Yes indeed, that is how it is received,how it is found, how the door is opened.”
How does one findwhat he is looking for?  SaintAugustine of Hippo begs us, a millennia and a half later, to live a journey inpursuit of that which is for our benefit, for our rescue and redemption, forour abundant life.  I think a 1656year old dead man just taught me to search out and confess to and humbly,authentically, relentlessly explore the character of God who revealed himselfto us in one who’s been on the journey with us all along.


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