Learning from the Masters: Augustine II

In Accessing the Ancients on January 30, 2009 at 11:46 am

I have found myself nodding off to sleep more and more while reading The Confessions.  At best, my attempt at study is only met with resistance.  I would rather doze off into sleep than keep my mind focused.  My second (and third) sittings with Augustine covered his account of his sixteenth year.  He noticed his own motivations, tedency toward sloth and delight in defining his own paths.  This book (on his sixteenth year) also covered his notorious ‘Stolen Fruit’ passage in which he recounts his stealing from others for the mere thrill, rather than out of want or need.

I remember this passage from my studies at UC Irvine.  I believe it was in Julia Lupton”s survey on Medieval literature.  She drew some analogy from Augustine’s stolen fruit.  I believe it was a reference to Ovid.  (Must have been impressionable – note hear my own tendency to blame my inattention on the teacher…)  This year is interesting because it accounts for Augustine’s teen years.  He acknowledges his willingness to steal the fruit merely in the company of others.  He would not otherwise have desired the fruit.  Sound like teens of our day…very influenced by peers.

Augustine acknowledges that he is not sharing his sixteenth year merely with God, but for the purpose of his readers.  He tells us, “It is that I myself and whoever else reads them may realize from what great depths we must cry unto you.”  A daring attempt to expose the deep longing that exists in our depths.  In his year of ‘Idleness’, in which his father could not afford to send him to Madauros for study of literature and oratory, Augustine recounts the different and yet still misdirected purposes of his parents.  He claims his parents both desired too much in his hopes for learning.

As I recount my experience of these passages, I would be remiss to take account of my willingness to fall asleep.  I was not focused on the subject of his teen years.  As I seek to hear, understand and be transformed by this study, I find my own tendency to resist.  Falling asleep may be an excuse for inattentiveness.  But I notice my tendency to become comfortable and find rest in my own ways (sleep).  I notice the gravity of my situation.  Perhaps, I too, must consider the depths from which I must cry out to God.  Spiritual discipline is like trying to defy laws of gravity and cannot be accomplished without God’s grace (favor) and mercy.

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