(This is one in a continuing series of posts where I use St. Augustine’s Confessions as a jumping off point)
When I owned a bookstore I had it made. I was married to a beautiful woman (still am, same gal:) had a job that was easy and enjoyable and let me do the things I most like to do (reading, drinking coffee, eating croissants, talking books, politics and generally armchair solving the world’s problems). When we happened to bring a child into the world by most estimates we were done living the race, we could pretty well coast to the sunset in a 1950s white middle class affluence and privilege, helping out where and when we felt like it and taking the occasional trip to interesting places, and watching the child develop.
This was not the most helpful for the health of my soul. It was easy, and the ease was of course appealing. Still, I could tell fairly quickly that this was not the path to deeper meaning and purpose, at least not for me. Despite “life going well” something was going to have to change, and while I loved my bookstore, I LOVED my wife and kid more and wanted more for all of us.
Auggie says something similar happened to him. He was living a good life, making money doing something he liked and was good at. While not married he had a “friend” who “comforted” him. He too could coast. His life needed to change. Here is something he wrote/prayed, “So may our soul rouse itself from its slothfulness and rise up into you, and from leaning on the things you have made, may it pass over to you, who have made all these things so wonderfully. And with you there is renewal and true strength.” I think it is important to note the slothfulness is of the soul, not the mind or body. We can be hard working, thoughtful, and successful and yet our souls are slumbering. He is not arguing that those who do not recognize God at work in their lives and in the world are not working hard, are bored/lazy/incompetent but rather that they are not as fulfilled as they are meant to be because a critical element of their wellbeing is being ignored, the soul.
Our souls are slothful when they rest upon the material world, the great glasses of wine, the cruise ships and sunny vacations, the steaks and whatever else floats your boat. To be too focused on these is to focus on the surface and to miss the deeper more meaningful truth available to each of us. This doesn’t mean those things aren’t good and pleasurable (of course they are), but that stoping there would be like a one night stand instead of a marriage, fun but lacking in depth.
Learning to find God in the world, and, I think, the love that is the generative cause of all these things we enjoy, like sunsets on the beach or the perfect line on a ski hill. When we move from the surface to the deep we discover not only that our souls can become awakened shrugging off their earlier slothfulness, but they can even find strength and renewal. That is to say, while in some ways the life of faith might seem harder and less pleasurable than the epicurean life, when one goes deeper one discovers this is not so. We learn that the satisfaction of one who climbs a mountain is greater than one who drives to the top (even if they drive in a wonderfully made convertible).
This lent, I wonder if you soul feels as awake as you would like it to be? What are you looking forward to? Are you spending time in the deep end of the pool of life or the shallow end? Planning to climb a mountain or hitching a ride?
If you are anywhere near where I used to be I strongly suggest you consider the path Auggie is laying out, the path of faith, of discovering the love and mercy and grace that sits just bellow the surface of our every day. You can always go back to your earlier lifestyle if you want to, but I don’t think you will.