October 21, 2007

"What was I to myself, but a guide to my own destruction?..."

From an excellent essay by R. R. Reno, in First Things...

....We tend to see what we want to see in the books we read. Our culture is one of leave-taking and it champions the seeker as the hero of the spiritual life. We think that we must brave arid deserts and snowy mountain passes on our quest for God. Recall Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, William James’ will to believe, and Paul Tillich’s courage to be. Having read Sartre’s hot rhetoric of existential choice and Heidegger’s cooler image of the heroic modern man patiently walking the meadows of our disenchanted culture as a shepherd of Being, I came to believe that truth and holiness, like elves and unicorns, had been veiled and hidden in distant realms and secret forests. It was our vocation to energize our souls and get on with the search. Or so I imagined.

After many rereadings of the Confessions, I have been mortified to discover that St. Augustine does not commend the great preoccupation of modern Christianity, the quest for faith. For him, the journey of his young adulthood was a futile circular movement. Imagining himself to be a seeker after God, he was in fact ever returning to himself. What began as a projected heroic journey ended in exhausted despair. Ten years after Cicero had ignited in him a love of wisdom, St. Augustine reports, “I had lost all hope of discovering the truth.” What seemed like a journey was nothing more than the huffing and puffing of a presumptuous soul that thought it could storm the citadel of God with earnest longing and good intentions. The upshot was paralysis,...

....Still, our inability is not a condemnation to stasis. There is a journey of faith for Augustine, but the guidance comes from God, not us. Far from finding God, Augustine confesses, “You pierced my heart with the arrow of your love.” Indeed, the arrows had already been loosed many times, but in his agitated desire to control his own destiny, Augustine had dodged and deflected them. Only after Augustine has recognized the vanity of his own efforts does the arrow of divine love strike its mark. In the silence of the garden, God’s Word finally reaches his heart. “The examples given by your servants,” Augustine reports, “burnt away and destroyed my heavy sluggishness.” Then and only then does his journey begin: to baptism, back to Africa, and to Hippo.

The general principle of Augustine’s own self-analysis is clear, and its relevance to the temptation to embark on our own searches for God is direct—even, and perhaps especially, when that search takes us across the strange terrain of denominationalism. “The soul needs to be enlightened,” he writes, “by light from outside itself.”.....

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at October 21, 2007 6:10 AM
Weblog by John Weidner