It is endearing to witness a giant of the faith like Augie showing vulnerabilities that are similar to mine. He looks back on his life and says, for in those days my notion of a good life was to win the approval of these people. It almost doesn’t matter who the people are, they are the Joneses, and the live next door to you (or they are on your social feed) whether you live in Westboro in 2022 or a coastal town in Africa centuries ago.
It happens to all of us to want to please others, it is pathological to really not care what others think or to not wish to please them. We also learn from what we see and establish “what works” and what doesn’t. Angie writes, it is not surprising I was drifting off towards these vanities, and away from you, my God, considering what sort of men were held up to me as examples to imitate. Plus ça change, I suppose:) Who are you imitating, who am I imitating? What “earns” someone the status of worthy of imitation and is it really what we want to imitate?
In a sly discussion of what we are to learn and what we are to aim our lives at he says, they did not consider the use to which I would put what they were forcing me to learn. They thought only of satisfying our insatiable longings for the poverty which is called riches and the ignominy that is called glory. He sounds a lot like whoever first pointed out that we spend our money to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like…the sort of quote and outlook that makes one pause and consider, what are we all aiming for and why? The sort of intellect that can see clearly and speak clearly about what it sees.
This requires discipline.
So too does the next step of living differently, of finding different models with more satisfying and meaningful goals. I have found that self-control truly is a gift of the Holy Spirit and that what might look to someone else as a deprivation is actually a form of freedom, like the pianist who must practice her scales every day in order to enjoy the freedom of playing the music that will express who she is. Augie says, for you have decreed and so it stands, that every undisciplined soul is its own punishment. In other words, “going with the flow” accepting our models at face value, is punishment in itself…just ask the broke guy, eating fat food, sitting in a traffic jam (yes they still happen even wth Covid and “working” for home) how it is working out for him.
The acceptance of God working in our lives. You have rescued me from all the evil roads I have trodden, and given me a sweetness surpassing all the pleasant by-paths I used to pursue. The Lord can change our path, this may or may not be painful, but it will be a rescue when it happens. Once it happens we do well follow the —ahem—model of Augie, whatever useful skills I acquired as a boy, I place at your service. Speaking, writing, reading, counting—let all of these skills serve you. There you have it, realizing that our skills are not just for our own edification or use, not just to help us define ourselves or find ourselves, but to be put to use for something larger than any of us, something that connects us to a larger story, the story of our families, friends, communities and the globe, that connects us to the cosmic truths of creation, that leads to satisfaction even if it may not lead to big houses or perfect haircuts or nice cars. Even if it means only the weird folks will ever seek to imitate us.
The time passes, we achieve a sense of flow, when we put our skills and talents to right use.
This lent, as you may reflect on where you have been off the mark, remember that being off the mark implies that there is a right path forward and it is a path available to us all.