Confessions: The Baptizing Water of Your Grace
I got away, and got away with it—because in your mercy you remitted even this sin, and saved me from the seawater, though I was full of abominable filth, and kept me safe until I reached the baptizing water of your grace.—Saint Augustine, Confessions 5.15
Saint Teresa did not want her son to go to Carthage. She brutally beat her chest and followed him to the sea. She hung on to Augustine, as he describes it, ‘coercively’ desperately trying to stop the journey or come along with him. Realizing that she would not get off his case he lied to her. He told her that a friend was leaving and that he had did not want to “walk out on a friend before the wind picked up and he set sail” (5:15:1).
The lie worked, he escaped his mother's grip and jumped on a boat, and sailed to Carthage. St. Teresa wept for her son’s departure. So what did Teresa do in her grief? She did what she is known for: she prayed. She prayed that the Lord would return her son, that God would convict him to return home and be with his poor mother. Augustine was not a Christian, he had set sail to Carthage for the sole purpose of ambition. In Teresa’s heart, the only thing that would return her son would be his conversion.
Reflecting on this incident Augustine recognizes that God disregarded her prayers for a larger purpose. While Teresa saw her sons’ desires as a hindrance to his conversion, God saw them as the means of his conversion. Augustine writes, “But you disregarded all that, since you were snatching me away through my desires in order to put an end to those very desires” (5:15:5).
Teresa, like any mother, wanted to be near her son. But in a true loving fashion, she desired him to come to faith above all else. In her mind, the only way he could come to faith was if he stayed near her. She could mentor him, she could guide him, she could give him nudges. So of course she wanted him to stay. But “she didn’t know the kind of joy you were going to create for her out of my absence” (Ibid).
As was the case with Teressa, God answers our prayers with solutions we cannot comprehend. Augustine hopped on a boat and set out to sea in order to peruse his desires. But little did he, or his mom, know that the shores of Cartage would be the shores of God’s grace. That there he would reach the “baptizing water of [God's] grace.”
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.—Isaiah 55:8-9
Holy One of Israel, you answer my prayers in ways I cannot comprehend. Help me to trust when I do not understand.
Note: These are my daily reflections as I go through Saint Agustine's Confessions. Unless otherwise noted, I am using Sarah Ruden's translation of the original text, and the NIV.