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20 THINGS YOU SHOULD READ
By david edwards margaret feinberg janella griggs matthew paul turner
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 David Edwards, Margaret Feinberg, Janella Griggs, and Matthew Paul Turner
All right reserved.
Chapter OneST. AUGUSTINE 354-430
WHEN AND WHERE: Aurelius Augustinus lived in a small town in North Africa and partied like a rock star before his conversion to Christianity.
STYLE: Augustine is candid and convincing in his presentation. He is regretful about his past but confident of his future and faith in God.
NOTEWORTHY ACCOMPLISHMENT: He is considered one of the founders of Western theology. Augustine's influence on Christianity is considered by some to be second only to the apostle Paul.
TIMELESS WISDOM: Augustine's story teaches us that no one is beyond redemption and that God will go to great lengths to pursue someone-even in the midst of their own rebellion.
Almost everyone had given up on Aurelius. He was rebellious and belligerent, and he had a natural tendency to hang out with the wrong crowd. Despite his mother's religious devotion, Aurelius chose a promiscuous, unruly lifestyle. By the age of eighteen, he had fathered a child, but rather than marry the woman, he kept her as a mistress.
As Aurelius entered his twenties, his life didn't change. He began writing abit, but the majority of his time was spent debating academic issues in theater-related activities. In many regards, Aurelius was about as far away from God as you could get. Yet his mother, a praying woman, refused to give up on him. She beat heaven's gates in prayer, until one day Aurelius woke up from the drunken stupor of his life. He came to faith in Jesus and dedicated his life to the priesthood.
Aurelius eventually became the bishop of the North African city of Hippo, and today he's simply known as Saint Augustine. Though his life was confined to the fourth and fifth centuries, his influence has been felt for more than a millennium. His book, Confessions, provides a moving account of one soul's journey toward grace. It recounts the story of his childhood, youth, and conversion to Christianity at the age of thirty-two. What makes Aurelius's story so unusual is its timelessness. It's the classic sinner-turned-saint story, yet it's so much more. It's honest and unapologetic in its prose. In the excerpt below, St. Augustine reflects on his sixteenth year-one of his rebellious years-with regret and remorse. The amazing testimony of his life and legacy is that no one is beyond redemption. Margaret
ST. AUGUSTINE Excerpted from Confessions
BOOK TWO, CHAPTER I
I wish now to review in memory my past wickedness and the carnal corruptions of my soul-not because I still love them, but that I may love thee, O my God. For love of thy love I do this, recalling in the bitterness of self-examination my wicked ways, that thou mayest grow sweet to me, thou sweetness without deception! Thou sweetness happy and assured! Thus thou mayest gather me up out of those fragments in which I was torn to pieces, while I turned away from thee, O Unity, and lost myself among "the many." For as I became a youth, I longed to be satisfied with worldly things, and I dared to grow wild in a succession of various and shadowy loves. My form wasted away, and I became corrupt in thy eyes, yet I was still pleasing to my own eyes-and eager to please the eyes of men.
But what was it that delighted me save to love and to be loved? Still I did not keep the moderate way of the love of mind to mind-the bright path of friendship. Instead, the mists of passion steamed up out of the puddly concupiscence of the flesh, and the hot imagination of puberty, and they so obscured and overcast my heart that I was unable to distinguish pure affection from unholy desire. Both boiled confusedly within me, and dragged my unstable youth down over the cliffs of unchaste desires and plunged me into a gulf of infamy. Thy anger had come upon me, and I knew it not. I had been deafened by the clanking of the chains of my mortality, the punishment for my soul's pride, and I wandered farther from thee, and thou didst permit me to do so. I was tossed to and fro, and wasted, and poured out, and I boiled over in my fornications-and yet thou didst hold thy peace, O my tardy Joy! Thou didst still hold thy peace, and I wandered still farther from thee into more and yet more barren fields of sorrow, in proud dejection and restless lassitude.
If only there had been someone to regulate my disorder and turn to my profit the fleeting beauties of the things around me, and to fix a bound to their sweetness, so that the tides of my youth might have spent themselves upon the shore of marriage! Then they might have been tranquilized and satisfied with having children, as thy law prescribes, O Lord-O thou who dost form the offspring of our death and art able also with a tender hand to blunt the thorns which were excluded from thy paradise!
For thy omnipotence is not far from us even when we are far from thee. Now, on the other hand, I might have given more vigilant heed to the voice from the clouds: "Nevertheless, such shall have trouble in the flesh, but I spare you," and, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman," and, "He that is unmarried cares for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he that is married cares for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife." I should have listened more attentively to these words, and, thus having been "made a eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake," I would have with greater happiness expected thy embraces.
But, fool that I was, I foamed in my wickedness as the sea and, forsaking thee, followed the rushing of my own tide, and burst out of all thy bounds. But I did not escape thy scourges. For what mortal can do so? Thou wast always by me, mercifully angry and flavoring all my unlawful pleasures with bitter discontent, in order that I might seek pleasures free from discontent. But where could I find such pleasure save in thee, O Lord-save in thee, who dost teach us by sorrow, who woundest us to heal us, and dost kill us that we may not die apart from thee. Where was I, and how far was I exiled from the delights of thy house, in that sixteenth year of the age of my flesh, when the madness of lust held full sway in me-that madness which grants indulgence to human shamelessness, even though it is forbidden by thy laws-and I gave myself entirely to it? Meanwhile, my family took no care to save me from ruin by marriage, for their sole care was that I should learn how to make a powerful speech and become a persuasive orator....
To whom am I narrating all this? Not to thee, O my God, but to my own kind in thy presence-to that small part of the human race who may chance to come upon these writings. And to what end? That I and all who read them may understand what depths there are from which we are to cry unto thee. For what is more surely heard in thy ear than a confessing heart and a faithful life? ...
During that sixteenth year of my age, I lived with my parents, having a holiday from school for a time-this idleness imposed upon me by my parents' straitened finances. The thornbushes of lust grew rank about my head, and there was no hand to root them out. Indeed, when my father saw me one day at the baths and perceived that I was becoming a man, and was showing the signs of adolescence, he joyfully told my mother about it as if already looking forward to grandchildren, rejoicing in that sort of inebriation in which the world so often forgets thee, its Creator, and falls in love with thy creature instead of thee-the inebriation of that invisible wine of a perverted will which turns and bows down to infamy. But in my mother's breast thou hadst already begun to build thy temple and the foundation of thy holy habitation-whereas my father was only a catechumen, and that but recently. She was, therefore, startled with a holy fear and trembling: for though I had not yet been baptized, she feared those crooked ways in which they walk who turn their backs to thee and not their faces.
God Was There All Along
Woe is me! Do I dare affirm that thou didst hold thy peace, O my God, while I wandered farther away from thee? Didst thou really then hold thy peace? Then whose words were they but thine which by my mother, thy faithful handmaid, thou didst pour into my ears? None of them, however, sank into my heart to make me do anything. She deplored and, as I remember, warned me privately with great solicitude, "not to commit fornication; but above all things never to defile another man's wife." These appeared to me but womanish counsels, which I would have blushed to obey.
Yet they were from thee, and I knew it not. I thought that thou wast silent and that it was only she who spoke. Yet it was through her that thou didst not keep silence toward me; and in rejecting her counsel I was rejecting thee-I, her son, "the son of thy handmaid, thy servant." But I did not realize this, and rushed on headlong with such blindness that, among my friends, I was ashamed to be less shameless than they, when I heard them boasting of their disgraceful exploits-yes, and glorying all the more the worse their baseness was. What is worse, I took pleasure in such exploits, not for the pleasure's sake only but mostly for praise. What is worthy of vituperation except vice itself? Yet I made myself out worse than I was, in order that I might not go lacking for praise. And when in anything I had not sinned as the worst ones in the group, I would still say that I had done what I had not done, in order not to appear contemptible because I was more innocent than they; and not to drop in their esteem because I was more chaste.
Chapter TwoJULIAN OF NORWICH 1342-CA. 1416
WHEN AND WHERE: Julian of Norwich lived during a time when the bubonic plague swept through England multiple times, so she was familiar with pain and suffering.
STYLE: Considered one of the great mystics, Julian uses colorful language to express divine love.
NOTEWORTHY ACCOMPLISHMENT: Her book, Revelations of Divine Love, is one of the first books ever written by an English woman.
TIMELESS WISDOM: Julian had a contagious passion to know the depths of God, no matter what the price.
Julian of Norwich comes from a land I scarely know. Born in the fourteenth century, she lived as a mystic-something that seems so foreign and aged and odd to the rational American world we live in today. Her relationship with God was very real to her, and she experienced him through divine visions and revelations.
Historians suspect she was a Benedictine nun. When she was thirty years old, she became ill to the point of death. Seven days later, after the medical crisis was over, Julian had a series of sixteen visions, or "showings," of Jesus in which she felt led to embrace and reflect upon the passion of Christ. After her health was fully restored, Julian lived in a small hut near a church in Norwich. For the next twenty years, she reflected on her visions through contemplation and prayer. She recorded her insights in a book called Revelations of Divine Love, one of the first books written in English by a woman.
The writing-which at times seems consumed with death-is saturated with the life of Christ. Considering her surroundings, it isn't surprising that Julian focused on death so much. She grew up watching the bubonic plague sweep through her village and country. The deaths of friends, relatives, and neighbors were inevitable.
She had experienced loss, but she had also experienced something much more powerful-the all-embracing life of Christ that permeated her soul with hope and love. It is in this context that Julian prayed one of the bravest prayers in history. She begged God to give her three gifts. First, she wanted to grasp the reality of Christ's final hours to understand not only Jesus' physical pains but also the compassion of those who witnessed his persecution. Second, she asked for a sickness to come upon her at the age of thirty so that she could experience death without actually dying. She believed this would help purge her and allow her to live all the more for God. Finally, she asked for three internal wounds: true contrition, natural compassion, and an unshakable longing for God.
It seems all three of these requests were answered in Julian's "showings," and the flavor of those desires infuses Revelations of Divine Love. At times the old English is hard to understand, but if you'll suffer through the rougher portions, you'll discover an unmistakably contagious desire for God-to know him and to be known by him. While Julian's mystical experiences are worthy of theological discussion and debate, the impact of the visions on Julian's understanding of God's love are without question. How can one who has suffered so much still know the richness of God's love? That question is one of the great Christian paradoxes.
May God give you a revelation of his divine love as you reflect on the writings of Julian of Norwich. Margaret
JULIAN OF NORWICH Excerpted from Revelations of Divine Love
These Revelations were shewed to a simple creature unlettered, the year of our Lord 1373, the Thirteenth day of May. Which creature [had] afore desired three gifts of God. The First was mind of His Passion; the Second was bodily sickness in youth, at thirty years of age; the Third was to have of God's gift three wounds.
As to the First, me thought I had some feeling in the Passion of Christ, but yet I desired more by the grace of God. Methought I would have been that time with Mary Magdalene, and with other that were Christ's lovers, and therefore I desired a bodily sight wherein I might have more knowledge of the bodily pains of our Saviour and of the compassion of our Lady and of all His true lovers that saw, that time, His pains. For I would be one of them and suffer with Him. Other sight nor shewing of God desired I never none, till the soul were disparted from the body. The cause of this petition was that after the shewing I should have the more true mind in the Passion of Christ.
The Second came to my mind with contrition; [I] freely desiring that sickness [to be] so hard as to death, that I might in that sickness receive all my rites of Holy Church, myself thinking that I should die, and that all creatures might suppose the same that saw me: for I would have no manner of comfort of earthly life. In this sickness I desired to have all manner of pains bodily and ghostly that I should have if I should die, (with all the dreads and tempests of the fiends) except the outpassing of the soul. And this I meant for [that] I would be purged, by the mercy of God, and afterward live more to the worship of God because of that sickness. And that for the more furthering in my death: for I desired to be soon with my God.
These two desires of the Passion and the sickness I desired with a condition, saying thus: Lord, Thou knowest what I would,-if it be Thy will that I have it-; and if it be not Thy will, good Lord, be not displeased: for I will nought but as Thou wilt.
For the Third [petition], by the grace of God and teaching of Holy Church I conceived a mighty desire to receive three wounds in my life: that is to say, the wound of very contrition, the wound of kind compassion, and the wound of steadfast longing toward God. And all this last petition I asked without any condition.
These two desires aforesaid passed from my mind, but the third dwelled with me continually.
When Sickness Comes
And when I was thirty years old and a half, God sent me a bodily sickness, in which I lay three days and three nights; and on the fourth night I took all my rites of Holy Church, and weened not to have lived till day. And after this I languored forth two days and two nights, and on the third night I weened oftentimes to have passed; and so weened they that were with me.
Excerpted from 20 THINGS YOU SHOULD READ by david edwards margaret feinberg janella griggs matthew paul turner Copyright © 2006 by David Edwards, Margaret Feinberg, Janella Griggs, and Matthew Paul Turner. Excerpted by permission.
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