WEEKLY PRAYER: ST. AUGUSTINE

Today’s prayer comes from St. Augustine of Hippo:

Look upon us, O Lord,
and let all the darkness of our souls
vanish before the beams of your brightness.

Fill us with holy love,
and open to us the treasures of your wisdom.
All our desire is known unto you,
therefore perfect what you have begun,
and what your spirit has awakened us
to ask in prayer.

We seek your face,
turn your face unto us and show us your glory.
Then shall our longing be satisified,
and our peace shall be perfect.

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: ST. AUGUSTINE AND DENISE LEVERTOV

Last week, I posted on a passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions in which Augustine longs for God to come into the house of his soul. A little home expansion is necessary, and this marks the beginning of a mystical journey–a journey inward to meet, love, and be filled by God.

Recently I found a poem by Denise Levertov (1923-1997), an American poet, which riffs on this passage from the Confessions. It’s a wonderful tribute to Augustine that sheds light on the spiritual restoration for which the saint yearns.

Take a moment to relish Levertov’s poem:

***

FOR THE ASKING

‘You would not seek Me if you did not already possess Me.’

-Pascal

 

Augustine said his soul
was a house so cramped
God could barely squeeze in.
Knock down the mean partitions,
he prayed, so You may enter!
Raise the oppressive ceilings!

Augustine’s soul
didn’t become a mansion large enough
to welcome, along with God, the women he’d loved,
except for his mother (though one, perhaps,
his son’s mother, did remain to inhabit
a small dark room). God, therefore
would never have felt
fully at home as his guest.

Nevertheless,
it’s clear desire
fulfilled itself in the asking, revealing prayer’s
dynamic action, that scoops out channels
like water on stone, or builds like layers
of grainy sediment steadily
forming sandstone. The walls, with each thought,
each feeling, each word he set down,
expanded, unnoticed; the roof
rose, and a skylight opened.

***

In the last stanza of the poem, we see another theme shared by many mystics, such as Julian of Norwich–the idea of finding God in the seeking; being answered in the asking. Like Levertov, Julian of Norwich often said that seeking God is the same as finding God. But back to the matter at hand.

As I think about my own formation, about what I need to get my journey started (and in many ways it begins anew each day), I like to read Augustine and Levertov together. Levertov’s poem helps me receive Augustine’s words and provides a model for how I might converse with him.

Augustine and Levertov, a Church Father and an American poet, help me to believe that soul-expansion is possible. It starts with nothing more than a cry to God. May this spiritual expansion be mine and yours today–may a skylight open in the house of our soul.

Source

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: THE MYSTICISM OF ST. AUGUSTINE

Most of us know St. Augustine as a Church Father and theologian. This week, I discovered that Augustine can also be considered a mystic. The church historian Dom Cuthbert Butler called him “the Prince of Mystics” because, in works like the Confessions, Augustine speaks of traveling inward to meet God. He also writes of experiencing the divine presence of God and of seeing God invisibly.

I suppose it’s not too surprising to think of Augustine as a mystic since, according to some–and this is a view I also espouse–every Christian is a mystic. We’re designed to encounter God, to experience his divine presence, and to yearn for greater intimacy with him.

In that vein, I want to quote a somewhat mystical passage from Augustine’s Confessions. I have long loved this passage for the beauty of Augustine’s language and the passion with which he seeks to meet God within. This is a spirituality of longing, and it’s on my heart this week. Early in the Confessions, Augustine calls upon God to come to him–to come into him, in fact. But no sooner does he call than questions arise:

But what place is there in me where my God can enter into me? . . . Where may he come to me? Lord my God, is there any room in me which can contain you?

A little later, Augustine gives the answer. There’s not just a room but a house. However, there are some problems with this house:

The house of my soul is too small for you to come to it. May it be enlarged by you. It is in ruins: restore it. In your eyes it has offensive features. I admit it, I know it; but who will clean it up? Or to whom shall I cry other than you?

We cry out to God in mercy to rebuild and restore the house of our soul. God cleans up the house he intends to inhabit. That’s a good first step on the mystical journey, and it’s where I am right now. I’m feeling my own lack and asking God to restore my house that I might meet him there. I’m encouraged that there’s the potential for such a beautiful and spacious place inside me.

Does your heart similarly cry out to God? Have you ever experienced this intense longing for the Creator?

Read St. Augustine’s Confessions here.