Tuesday, May 25, 2010

ECM, Day 9: (St.) Augustine of Hippo

Augustine has never been one of my favorites, and I almost feel bad about it. While he lived, though, from 354 - 430 A.D., he was really prolific and hugely influential on the development of Christianity.

In this part of the book, McGinn relays and writes about Augustine's meditation on the Psalms. In essence, Augustine writes about a deep and beautiful longing for God.

"Seeking my God in visible and corporeal things, I did not find him. Seeking his substance in myself, as if he were something like me, I also did not find him. I am aware that my God is something above my soul, and therefore, so that I may touch him, 'I thought on these things and poured out my soul above myself' (Ps 41.5)" (22-23). Here Augustine writes and preaches beautifully about his devotion to the divine. His language makes it clear that God is far above Augustine. Later in the same passage Augustine writes that if his soul stayed within himself, he would look around himself and only be aware of himself. Reaching beyond the self and being open to God's majesty is the only way to grow. After this, Augustine uses very personal, loving, and rhetorically moving language to talk about the ways in which God cares for Augustine as an individual and the ways in which God affects his life.

In part 9 of Augustine's excerpt found in this book, Augustine moves beyond his personal relationship with God to talk about the importance of the church, citing verses from the Psalms on the "tabernacle." The church seemed to bring Augustine great joy and peace. [To those of you who know his work better than I do, this is perhaps a huge understatement.] To my mind, it is the community that makes a church beautiful and powerful and transformational. The traditions of the Catholic Church have their own beauty, but there are many other churches out there. "Where two are three are gathered in my name," says Scripture. Even if I don't embrace every aspect of some of the more traditional faiths, I can embrace community. I personally try to take steps every day to keep myself open to new encounters and relationships with people, to respect and really love other people, and to constantly view the world around me and the people in it as a big ol' community that needs some unifying.

Augustine would make a great preacher today, and I'm sure he'd back this message as well. Sure, some of his other writings talk about his hang-ups with his body and sin. Without being a scholar on the man, I might even argue that he was sort of Gnostic about body as evil and soul as good.

It's been too long since I've posted, or at least it feels that way. I haven't read ahead for the next post, either. That post will be another exploration of Song of Songs, this time from the perspective of mystic Bernard of Clairvaux. I'm intrigued and excited to read Bernard, because McGinn says that Bernard is not a theorist and that his 86 sermons on the Songs span almost 20 years. McGinn says he approached these sermons with "contemplative leisure" (27). I'm excited to see what that means. I'd like to make "contemplative leisure" an integral part of my life as well, but right now I'm fervent about so many things. We'll see how it goes.

No comments: