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Confessions: Grazing the Winds

If any soul sighs for such fabrications, doesn’t it whore around on you, isn’t it faithful to what’s imaginary, isn’t it grazing a flock of winds? Of course, I said no to a sacrifice to demons to benefit myself, but I sacrificed myself to those demons through the Manichaean superstition. What is grazing the winds if not grazing demons themselves—by which I mean being so wrong that they can find plenty of entertainment making fun of you?—Saint Augustine, Confessions 4.3

Augustine tells of a time when a soothsayer, for a price, offered to make a sacrifice on his behalf to ensure that he won a poetic contest in the theater. Augustine turned down this sacrifice to ‘demons’ because he did not want to ‘solicit the votes of demons to ensure his victory, he wanted to win on his own merit.

But Augustine reflects that he did not turn down this sacrifice because he was trying to be faithful to God, he turned it down because he was perusing another vanity. But just because he didn’t sacrifice his soul to demons[1] that day does not mean he had not already sacrificed his soul to demons through other means. He had not said the incantations and slaughtered an animal in the name of demons, but he had lived by and taught the Manichaean superstitions.

Sacrificing to demons can take various façades. You do not need to do all the pagan rituals, you must simply live to “graze the wind.” The saying “grazing the wind” means to do something that is meaningless[2]. From Augustine’s perspective, doing meaningless things is feeding demons (i.e. sacrificing to demons). This is why he says “[demons] can find plenty of entertainment making fun of you.” What is more humiliating for the human race, than being deceived into grazing wind?

The people of Israel feed on the wind;

they chase after the east wind all day long.—Hosea 12:1 (NLT)

Lord, forgive us for sacrificing to demons through meaningless pursuits. Show us the path to meaningful work.

[1] From Augustine’s perspective, making a sacrifice to demons is sacrificing oneself to demons [2] The wind does not need to graze because it needs no nourishment. If you say I am “grazing the wind” you are doing something meaningless or unnecessary.

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.


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