Why so distant?
Our alienation from God is so profound that simple reflection will not lead to divine wisdom as defined by Augustine (philosopher and Christian theologian, 354-430 A.D.). “The fact is that men as they are cannot reach the goal though God is present to them and their minds are capable of apprehending God.”
In despair Augustine penned these words:
“Your beauty drew me to you, but soon I was dragged away from you by my own weight and in dismay I plunged again into the things of this world.”
Hindrances to Contemplation
Augustine spent much ink exploring the problem of evil and the choices that corrupt the mind. The fall of humanity and the resulting evil has led to distorted and limited memories.
Even our minds’ storage of experiences is corroded. Augustine wrote, “I cannot truly know who I am…my memories are selfish.” The result is self-deception and lack of understanding. Furthermore, man develops invalid conclusions about God.
These profound shortcomings prevent contemplation of the Holy. “The (wise man) develops a facility to rising to the vision and for the retention of some of this truth in his memory.” Reconciliation to God through the soul is man’s only hope; however, his profound shortcomings prevent such a full restoration in this life. “The actual human condition stresses the universality of alienation from God and the arduousness of the return toward man’s proper mode of existence.”
Augustine, therefore, places supreme importance on the grace of God to draw man to Himself. “We shall certainly be defeated unless we are helped by God.” Addressing God, Augustine wrote “by the gift of grace (man) is not only shown how to see You, who are always the same, but is also given the strength to hold you.”
The eyes of man’s soul are too weak to gaze upon God. He only can be restored into the Light after divine preparation of the soul. Man is prepared through tears of confession and through a humbled heart.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart.
O God, you will not despise.
Toward a Contemplative Soul…
As children of the King of Kings, we are welcomed into the throne room.
We enter through our humility and gratitude.
We are welcomed through His grace.
On the path of a contemplative life, we must recognize what we can control. God’s grace and good pleasure are not among them. He is Sovereign. We can only approach with awe, wonder and passion.
My fallen, sinful nature struggles to maintain connection with the Divine. Physically beating my body won’t do it. Rigorous yoga won’t do it. Solitary life in a cave won’t do it. It’s grace.
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10a-18)
hmm… you may be thinking…”so… thanks, Sharon, this is not uplifting, not inspiring…why am I reading this??” But please do stay with me… this is critical!
Pause and ask: What was the content of your previous times with God? What did you pray? A thanks for your meal? Requests … for health, finances, relationships? Indeed, all needs are welcome at the foot of the cross.
To live a contemplative life committed to the King, however, I first and foremost need to recognize my own brokenness. My nature is not good. My heart strays. My allegiance is divided. Scriptures (and my own actions) clearly reveal my fallen self.
In the coming days … each time you approach the Lord, first be fully aware of your own brokenness and sinful nature. Know this is what draws us away from the Holy (Romans 7:7-24).
But, then, as Paul concludes the passage in Romans…”Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)
I am overwhelmed by His grace. I can come to the Creator of the universe in prayer! I can dwell in His presence. I have seen Him work. I have witnessed His transforming work.
In your times of prayer, then, move on from recognizing the brokenness to dwelling in His grace. He is present. May He draw you close.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, O Lord my God,
with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever
For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me form the depths of the grave…
But you, O Lord, are a compassionate
and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and
(Psalm 86.11-13, 15)
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Back to Post 1 Eugene TeSelle, Augustine the Theologian (NY: Herder and Herder, 1970), p. 68.
Back to Post 2 Saint Augustine. Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (Oxford: Penguin Books, 1984), 7.17.
Back to Post 3 Vernon J. Bourke, Augustine’s Love of Wisdom (Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1992), p. 215.
Back to Post 4 TeSelle, p. 68.
Back to Post 5 Augustine, Faith, Hope and Charity, trans. Louis A. Arand, Vol. 3, Ancient Christian Writers (NY: Newman Press), 22.81.
Back to Post 6 Augustine, Confessions, 7.21.