When I Love God

Last Sunday morning's Sunday Sequence on Radio Ulster was jam-packed with controversy, about who is and is not a victim, whether the formation of the UVF in 1913 and the implicit threat within it to the rule of law was an act of rebellion to be equated with the threat of terrorism, the provision for women prisoners in the NI Prison Service, euthanasia (as well as John Dunlop giving William Crawley a hard time while on talking about tomorrow's 25th Anniversary relaunch of ECONI's "For God and His Glory Alone")... But in the midst of the melee was a piece on Augustine of Hippo, and a comment about him doing "theology and philosophy in the first person."
Now Augustine is not one of my favourite theologians for various reasons, including the fact that some of his theology seems framed and shaped by his own experience, rather than allowing the word of God shape him, especially regarding sex and sexuality. But at the end of the day ALL theology and faith MUST be in the first person, in a relationship with God. This, together with my recent reading of Dennis Lennon's "Fuelling the Fire", brought to mind this passage from Augustine's autobiographical theology "Confessions" Book 10, Chapter 6, on what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength as we are commanded in the greatest command:

My love for you, O Lord,
is not some warm and woolly feeling, 
but something sure and certain. 
Your living Word has infected my heart, 
and from that moment of intimate encounter 
I have loved you. 
And on every side I see signs
in the heavens and the earth, 
and all that is in them
demanding that I love you, 
constantly telling each succeeding generation
so that they are without excuse.

How profoundly you have mercy on on those whom you will have mercy, 
and compassion on those whom you will have compassion. 
Otherwise heaven and earth would waste its breath 
proclaiming your praises to deaf ears.

But what does it mean to love you? 
What do I love?
Not physical beauty, nor the wonder of the cosmic order; 
Not the radiance of the light--so pleasing to our eyes - 
nor the sweet melody and harmony of songs, 
nor the fragrance of flowers and perfumes and spices; 
Not daily bread or honey from the comb; 
Not the limbs of a lover entangled in embrace.
It is not these I love
when I love my God,
(loveable though they are).

And yet, when I love him,
it is true that I love a certain kind of light
and sound and fragrance and food and embrace
in a new and deeper way, 
because he himself 
is the light and sound and fragrance and food and embrace
of my inner self;
where my soul is bathed in a light which is not bound by space;
when my heartstrings vibrate to a sound which never dies away;
where my spirit is lifted by a fragrance which no breeze can bear away;
when my strength is sustained by a food which no consumption can devour;
where my broken being is enfolded in an embrace that consummation does not diminish
that eternity will never break.
This is what I love 
when I love my God.

-a paraphrase by me based upon the Penguin translation by R.S. Pine-Coffin (a glorious name) 
and the Westminster translation by Albert Outler


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