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Confessions : Mindful of the Ugliness

I want to be mindful of the ugliness I engaged in back then, and the dissolution my body wreaked on my soul—not because I’m in love with any of that, but rather, my God, for the purpose of loving you.

I do this out of love for the love I have for you; I recollect the paths of my depravity in the bitterness of my inspection of myself, so that you grow sweet to me, with a sweetness, a charm that’s not deceitful but blessed and safe, binding me together against the scattering force that ripped me to pieces as long as I turned my back on your singularity and disappeared into multiplicity.

At one time, you see, in my youth, I caught the flame of desire to glut myself on the pit of hell, and recklessly grew a whole grove of shady love affairs, several species of them. Any beauty in me ran to ruin, and in your eyes I rotted from the inside out while I approved of myself so much, and yearned for approval in human eyes.—Saint Augustine, Confessions 2.1

Augustine desires to be mindful of the ugliness and recklessness of his past. He wants to inspect himself daily to interrogate his motivations, desires, and actions. Augustine does not desire to be, as many of us are, self-deceived. How else can a person discern between good and evil, or beauty and ugliness unless he steps back to be honest with himself? There is no other way. As Ryan Holidays states, “ego and self-deception are enemies of the things we wish to have because we delude ourselves into believing that we already posses them.”[1]

Mindfulness of the truth (of our past, and present), and constant interrogation of our soul is the only way to see ourselves for who we really are. The great Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Stick with the situation at hand, and ask ‘why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?’ You’ll be embarrassed by the answer.”[2]

It is in a clear understanding of who we are that we can see God clearly. Finally acknowledging our imperfection, we are able to abandon self-worship and look toward God, the perfect one worthy of our worship. Like Augustine, I want to be mindful of myself and interrogate myself for the purpose of loving God. So that Christ may grow sweet to me. That I may be free from the approval of human eyes.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;

the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

—Isaiah 6:1-5

Lord, I want to be mindful of the ugliness for the purpose of loving you.

[1]  Holiday, Ryan, The Daily Stoic, p.84. [2] Aurelius, Marcus, Meditations 8.36

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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