It really is the simple things. Quiet space to reconnect to the things that matter, sacred space (whether that is a sanctuary of a church, the woods, the ocean, the back yard, your own sofa, or your yoga mat) to remember that matters. Sacred space to quiet the churning of thoughts, the desires of the mind, and to reconnect to your own body and soul, and Grace, Spirit, and God.
Sometimes, we’re looking so far away that we forget to look at what’s right beneath our nose.
I was in Saint Augustine last week for a mini winter break.
I have been missing the who’s who of the Bible reflections. The stories of people of the Bible. Stories that offer us models of people who resonate with our own stories. Or our current stories. I realized that I’d spent five days in Saint Augustine and I wasn’t sure who he was…
I decided to look into the story of Saint Augustine. Here’s a who’s who and a story. I’ll share some of what I took from his story and you’ll come up with your own meaning.
Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, was born in 354.
His baptism and conversion didn’t happen until 386. He was in his thirties for his conversion. One could say he was a late bloomer.
He was born in North Africa, a Roman who spoke and wrote Latin.
His mother, Monica (later Saint Monica), was a devout Christian. His father was pagan until his conversion on his death bed.
As a boy, Augustine engaged in the usual rites of young boys encouraging one another to adventure and excitement and in boyish antics he began to explore the desire to misbehave or sin. To steal, not out of need, but because one could.
As a young man, he found competitive friendships that required boasting of actual acts or lying to compete, particularly around sexual relations. He began to enjoy the pleasures of the senses and flesh.
He began to believe that men were naturally inclined to sin and this led to a search for wisdom and truth. He studied philosophy and explored non Christian faiths. He took a lover for fifteen years and had a son with her, but could not marry her because of her lack of social status.
He was, instead in his late twenties, to marry an heiress, but had to wait until she was of legal age to marry. That would be twelve years old. While he waited, he explored and traveled. Seeking.
He studied in Italy and was dismayed by the lack of morals in the education system. Students would pay teachers at the end of the term and he was appalled at how many did not pay at the close of the term. Again, an exploration in the natural inclination to sin.
Disheartened with Rome, he eventually made his way to Milan where he was introduced to Ambrose the Archbishop of Milan who became a spiritual father to Augustine. Augustine came late to Christianity, but after his baptism and conversion, he came to practice poverty and charity.
He is the patron saint of those who struggle with faith and temptation. One of his most well known quotes is “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet” as he awaited his young betrothed to come of age. He struggled so much with the desires of the senses that it is said that he cried out in frustration with the battle between God and flesh and was answered with: “Take up and read. Take up and read.” To which he took up the Bible and
“in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh… “
Faith and temptation.
Augustine is sometimes also thought of as the patron saint of the restless heart. His Confessions speak of the worries, struggles, and ambitions of man, which echos modern day life. His is an example of a very human story. He travels, leaving home, looking for something. Desire, he is looking for something more. The road as life. To be on the path is to have arrived. There is no end, but there is a healthy journey. It’s not chasing the next rung on the ladder of life and ambition or the next boast to offer up to the next competition. Perhaps his younger self could be compared to a Jack Kerouac On the Road.
Augustine discovers that the key is to stop. Slow down. There is happiness in rest. What you seek is within. God is with you, if only you stop and see. Rest is a matter of what and how we love.
Rest is a matter of what and how we love.
Augustine was late to finding God. He saw God’s humanity in Jesus, but he felt that God is like a father waiting at home for the lost sons (daughters). He doesn’t only wait and watch, but runs to meet us. He felt that God rushed out to meet him when he finally found God.
Augustine is thought of as establishing anew the ancient faith. His works are a bridge from the Classical way of thinking to the Medieval. His Confessions is often thought of as the gateway to the modern novel, an example of a human story one could empathize with.
When he returned home to North Africa, he gave away all of his inheritance except his home, which he turned into his monastery. He lived a monastic life where he ate sparingly, worked tirelessly, despised gossip, shunned temptations of the flesh, and was prudent in financial stewardship. All things he had once been a glutton in. He had experienced the struggles. He understood the struggle and hardship of letting go of desire, but had done it. He was a man who had really struggled too. Struggled with the things we often don’t want to admit we struggle with. His is a story to relate to. A human story.
His Confessions are full of philosophy and theology on time, causality, free will. Many protestants consider him the theological father of the protestant reformation. He was a thoughtful scholar of theology and philosophy.
A few of his theological thoughts include a deep sense of the duality of soul and body. To be human is to have both, the soul being superior. Sins of desire are a disobedience of body to spirit; instead of body bowing to spirit, the body is too much in control. The senses. It is not so much the act as the emotions involved (desire, greed, lying, stealing its subtle forms…). Right relations and right care of body (care of self and others). Perhaps, it can be summed up as body bowing to soul. As a yogi, this sounds to me like the body as temple. A gift to be cared for as the temporary home of soul/self.
Augustine is the saint for the restless heart. As a modern human on the go of competition and ambition, this sounds like the struggle of: Who am I? What do I do? Where do I go? The struggles of a seeker, traveler, and studyer.
The saint for those who struggle with faith and temptation. The redeemed mortal and the restless seeker. He establishes anew the ancient faith for a new generation, perhaps even today. A bridge from classical to medieval thinking. Perhaps it is appropriate the Saint Augustine the town would be named for the Saint Augustine. Both representing an old world woven into the new. Bridges between old and new.
Augustine represents that bridge between the classical works and the new age of being, rooted in God as Love. And forgiveness. When I think of Augustine, I will think of “God tripping over his own sandals to welcome home his son”. God as infinite, forgiving Love.