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One of the places I have confessed my shortcomings.
1. Life never has to be done alone. Augustine begins with these words: "Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise, your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning." Despite this book being about his own life, Augustine writes in a way that draws the reader to another person, the ever-present God and Creator. Page after page, he inserts prayers and bursts of praise into his story, as if this were the most natural way to recount the details of his life. Augustine continues: "You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you."
Like any human being, I like to talk about myself and my world (witness this blog and my status updates on facebook), but reading Augustine's Confessions reminds me that deep down inside, I long for my talking, my writing, my thinking, and my life to be a conversation instead of a monologue. We long to connect. For Augustine, God is that faithful conversation partner: always present, always listening, always active and loving, always near. When he looks back on his life, he is confident that he was never alone, never lost, never wandering because Love was always nearby.
2. It's okay not to be perfect. Part of loving someone and being loved is letting them into our world; that includes not hiding our flaws and imperfections and coming clean about our mistakes and bad decisions. Exposing our foolishness to the outside world is a tricky business. People have been fired, become the object of public scorn, and suffered humiliation when their dirty secrets have been aired. All of us have moments of failure, but what are we to do with them? Stuff them way down, bury them so that no one ever finds out? No.
Augustine demonstrates a way to be free from past mistakes by bringing them before God in the presence of witnesses. He takes ownership of all his foolish decisions, never hiding his selfishness, lust, stubbornness, and pride. But the reason he puts all this down for others to read is not to shock anyone, nor gain fame (or infamy) nor to ease his guilty conscience. He writes about his life with all its ups and downs in order to showcase the greatness of God and the transformative power of love. Within this context, the reader takes no guilty pleasure in hearing about all of the bishop's dirty secrets. Instead, they are revealed as insipid and tawdry when compared to the beauty and shining purity of Divine love which we see on nearly every page, broadcast in eloquent and enthusiastic language. Confession in the context of love makes true love glow brighter.
Reading Augustine is humbling and encouraging. I am humbled by the man's deep love for his God and his awareness of that constant, burning presence. I am humbled by his courage in bravely baring his soul without feeling the need to safeguard his reputation. I am humbled by his great mind which probes deep within and without, always searching for the truth which will finally satisfy. I am encouraged by a love story which shows us the transformation of one who is mired in deceit, trapped in self-centred lust, and drawn into self-promotion, all the while being drawn surely and steadily toward the greatest love he will ever know. I am encouraged that someone has thought the same troubling thoughts as I have and found solace in the ever-present and wise Spirit of God. I am encouraged that writing about one's own life is not a waste of time and need not be an exercise in self-indulgence. And above all, I am encouraged that Love will find me, no matter where I go or what I do, he will always find me.