I must admit that I have been fishing around for a congregational lenten project for the past two months and have spent time climbing many a useless tree. Sometimes my work is far from efficient, but alas so it goes. This past year I read a book about Augustine and when I did I intended to read either (or maybe even both) Confessions and City of God. As is true of so many good intentions I have done neither. I should say that I know for certain I read the Confessions before, and I’m far less certain about City (though I suspect I have read bits and pieces from it for classes and such).
One element I recall about Augustine’s writings is that they are often saturated with quotes and allusions to the Book of Psalms. At Westminster we started this year off with an 8 week study of the psalms that was educational, spiritually beneficial, and often moving.
Lent, says the illustrious Wikipedia, is a historical season practiced by many Christians leading up to Easter. It is a season (well 40 days plus Sundays by most counts) marked by grief, repentance, fasting, simple-living, prayer, and the like. It is often associated with giving something up (say chocolate or meat) for a period or more recently picking something up (say daily prayer or bible reading). All of this, of course, leads to the great celebration that is Easter, marking the resurrection of Jesus and beginning of a new era for humanity.
I write by way of introduction to what has lead me to this, and the invitation I am setting out for you. I will read Confessions using the Everyman Library version that I already own and the Philip Burton translation it contains. I am not saying this is the best way, merely the free way for me and I like the fancy ribbon bookmark it has:). There are some old translations (they can be harder to read at times) available for free online. There are also extremely cheap kindle versions if that is more your thing, there are also obviously many translations available for a bit more money via ebook, real book, or audio book.
The book is over 1600 years old and has been in constant print, people from many centuries, places, backgrounds, and religious beliefs have found this worthy of reading, they have learned from it, laughed with it, come to faith by it, thrown their bibles out because of it…maybe it is the story about choosing evil for evil’s sake (like when he steal the pear despite not being hungry) that makes this book so approachable to so many people, whatever makes it so, my point is that whoever you are you might be surprised at what you can get out of reading such a classic distanced by such great time and space from us.
My plan—and my suggestion to you—is to read the Confessions over lent. It is not a terribly long book (356 pages in my version if you don’t count the introduction and other such paraphernalia) so that is…about 9 pages a day. I will aim for that but stop where the stoping makes sense, if that is 7 pages or 12…gentleness and practicality is the name of the game. I am not a scholar and I am far from an expert in Augustinian thought, Roman Catholic Theology, or the history of this book and how it has been understood over time. This process will be as close to the blind leading the blind as can be expected, but we can muddle along together if you like.
I will try to pop some thoughts and maybe some prompting questions onto this blog as we go and would be more than happy to hear if you take this on, have any questions you could like addressed of thoughts you want to share along the way.