jpmurad

Learning from the Masters: Augustine

In Accessing the Ancients on January 27, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Have you noticed how oppressive talk about ‘this economy’ can be?  It seems to engulf my very notions of prosperity, wealth and hope.  What hope is there with so much talk about a failing economy?  In the midst of the economic circumstances, I have turned my ear to God’s big promises.  In the Sacred Text, a letter written to a group in the Turkish city of Ephesus, a man named Paul suggests that God has given an inheritance of glorious riches in His Saints.

In this spirit, I have begun to study figures throughout history, that have been honored for their contextual contributions of faith, hope and love.  Augustine, a man educated in Rome and living in North Africa penned a book in the spirit of confession.  The book illuminates his life from childhood through adulthood, as he exercises and develops the discipline.

Context of Grace

Having read about his childhood, there are a few things that I have noticed about the very loaded word of confession.  I would be tempted to think of a Spanish-style mission, a wooden booth, a sacramental screen and a priest whispering.  However, I would argue that a proper view of confession involves seeing rightly events of the past.  That is, acknowledging our past in light of God’s grace and truth.  It is very important that this discipline be conducted in the context of grace.  Discipline without grace and favor can quickly default to a set of rules.

Augustine acknowledges his disregard for his giftings, his casual drifting in an errant cultural current (of thought and action), and his tendency toward apathy and laziness.  As Augustine works through events of his youth — studies, schooling, relationship with parents — he does so basking in God’s favor.  In our context, I notice that self-judgment is the order of the day.  We must literally go ‘against the current’ to believe that we are deeply accepted.  As Augustine says, “Not on foot, and not by distance of place do we depart from you or return to you.”

Being able to see our past rightly, can empower us to move forward into a future worth having.  If we misinterpret the events of the past, we are liable to continue living in them.  My hope for interpreting the past rightly depends on seeking God’s understanding.  I was deeply impressed by Augustine’s intentional leaning toward a right view of God.  In our context, this practice of confession must be accompanied by good discretion and sound guidance.  When seeking to understand our past, it can be helpful to seek out trustworthy, graceful and discerning individuals to partner with us.

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