Tag Archives: Love

Loving God with Augustine

As you think on these words from Augustine’s Confessions, prayerfully seek a deeper love for God, a love inflamed in us by the fruit-producing work of His Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22)! Pray continually (1 Thess. 5:17) that, as you daily spend time in the Word, the Holy Spirit would give you a deeper love for the God Who Is, He Who has gloriously revealed Himself to us in Christ clothed in the gospel!

For he who loves along with you anything that he does not love for your sake, loves you the less. O Love ever burning and never extinguished, Love, my God, set me ablaze! Augustine, Confessions, 10.29.40.

Wretched and restless indeed are those spirits which are carried away by this downward flux, revealing the depths of their darkness, stripped as it is of the raiment of your light; but through that very restlessness you give abundant proof of the greatness of your rational creation, which is unsatisfied and cannot know blessedness and rest in anything less than you, and hence not even in itself. For it is you, O Lord, who will lighten our darkness; from you arise our raiment, and our darkness shall be as the noonday. Give yourself to me, O God; restore yourself to me. Behold, I love you; if that is not enough, let me love you more strongly. I cannot measure and know how much love I lack; how much more would be enough to make my life run to your embraces and not turn aside until it was hidden in the hidden depth of your countenance. This alone I know: that without you it is not well with me, not only outwardly but also within myself, and that all my wealth that is not my God, is poverty. Augustine, Confessions, 13.8.9.

“Your Valentine”

Asterius, the Roman judge, a man respected by all who knew him, even more by those who knew only his reputation, sat weeping in the dark like a lost child.

This was not the first time. During the day he played the part expected of him – honorable, grave, and firm. To his servants he was a fair master. To his wife he was a loving husband. And to his little daughter…

The tears flowed freely as he sobbed alone. “My little girl… what will become of you, my sweet Camilla?” The child had reached her sixth year and had only ever known darkness from her entrance into this world. Though she could not see, she was not unhappy; she played with the other children, had learned to navigate the home and its surroundings, and her smile brightened her father’s darkness. But at night, while Camilla lay sleeping in her bed, and his wife in hers, Asterius would mourn his daughter’s blindness and weep for her future.

“Why do you weep, Asterius?” A voice pierced the surrounding night.

It was Valentinus the Christian. As Asterius turned toward the voice, he could make out by what little light there was the man’s long, flowing white hair. Valentinus was not an old man, but his hair was white as snow; indeed, something about his eyes seemed ancient. For his crimes against the Emperor, crimes which included being a leader in the movement he called The Way, and performing marriages in the name of the Jew, Jesus, Valentinus had been arrested and imprisoned. Because he was a citizen of Rome, he avoided the executioner’s block and the common pits where they generally threw the undesirables. Instead, Asterius had put him under house arrest… and that in his own house. Something about the man…

“I weep for my daughter’s blindness,” he replied. “I weep because the gods have cursed her with this fate… have cursed her, my flower, my sunshine!” At this he dropped to the ground, weeping uncontrollably.

“I weep… every night I weep… because no matter how many offerings I offer, how many prayers I raise to them, she is still blind!” He looked deeply into the ancient eyes of Valentinus. “How can one bright as she live in such darkness? The gods are cruel!”

The bishop sat on the ground beside Asterius and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“I once had a child, a son. His name was Gaius, but my wife and I called him ‘little cub.’ I loved him dearly; I loved her… My fondest memory is of them. I can see him playing at her feet. I can see the sun shining through her golden hair.” Valentinus smiled.

“What happened to them?” Asterius asked.

“My Lord took them to Himself,” he replied. “But I will see them again!”

“How do you know? How do you know that this life is not all there is? that the gods are not just stones?”

“Your gods are stones, Asterius,” Valentinus answered. “Nothing more. They do not hear you because they cannot hear you. I know I will see my wife again because my God lives; because the Christ has risen, my wife and my son will rise also unto a new and everlasting life, as will all who have trusted in Jesus.”

Asterius’ mind, always reaching for a hope, began to calculate upon the words of his prisoner. Valentinus was here in his home for espousing this atheism, this denial of the Roman gods. But, Valentinus’ faith was stronger than his own. True, the bishop might have denied the gods, but he did so because he believed his God was true and living. Perhaps this God would hear the prayers that had so long gone unheard by stone; perhaps He would answer the prayers of His white-haired servant.

“Valentinus, can your Jesus heal my daughter? You say He hears you; will you pray that my Camilla will see? I am a wealthy man. Ask whatever you wish, and if I can do it, I will. But please, beseech your God to heal my sweet girl! Please!” Asterius grasped Valentinus’ hand, the judge begging the prisoner for his help.

“I will pray for your daughter,” said Valentinus. “And all I ask of you is that when my Jesus has given your daughter sight, you and your household turn from these dead stones to the living God in faith, and that you be baptized and taught The Way.”

Asterius consented. Perhaps he knew that becoming a Christian meant becoming an outsider, a persecuted and hated thing in the eyes of all Romans. But he didn’t care about “the eyes of all Romans”; he only wanted his little girl to see. Gently, he woke his wife and told her what Valentinus had said. She rose from bed and went with him to wake Camilla. Within a few moments, he was again on the terrace before the white-haired bishop.

The girl was not frightened or in the least alarmed by everything that was transpiring. Rather, she seemed to see more clearly than those around her that all would be well as her father placed her in Valentinus’ arms.

He looked upon the girl with a deep love, the love of a father for his child, and then, closing his eyes, he prayed: “Father, hear my prayer for the sake of Your Son, Jesus the Christ! You Who make the seeing and the blind, Who sent Your Son to open the eyes of those who could not see, open her eyes. Be glorified this night, my Lord!”

There was no lightning bolt that split the sky. There was no earthquake that sent the surrounding columns tumbling to the earth. No, that night, a little girl smiled and laughed when she looked with her own opened eyes into those of the white-haired man who held her. And Asterius and his wife fell to their knees, weeping tears of joy and thanking again and again the God Who lives!

The coming days would see the breaking of Asterius’ household gods, the deaf idols of stone in which he had once trusted. He and his wife and his servants would all be catechized and baptized by Valentinus over the following weeks, as would little Camilla, to whom Valentinus became a second father. After his release, the bishop and Camilla would often write to one another, maintaining their friendship through their correspondence.

Eventually, Valentinus would be arrested again for following Christ and for performing Christian marriages for believers who loved one another. This time, however, he would be brought before the Emperor Claudius II, and when Valentinus attempted to convert the Emperor to Christianity, Claudius ordered his execution.

Before he died, Valentinus wrote a final letter to his daughter in Christ:

My sweet girl,

I go now to our Lord, to await the resurrection of the dead. This is not the end. Just as my beloved wife and son have gone before me, so now I am going before you. But we will meet again. One day our eyes that see so dimly here will look upon the glorious face of our Lord Jesus and we will live forever with Him in His Kingdom. Remain steadfast, dear one, and walk in the Way of Christ our Savior. My love for you and for your family does not die with my body; love goes on, and I will carry it with me to heaven. Even when all else fades, love endures.

Grace and Peace to You,

Your Valentine

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Valentine’s Day, or The Feast of St. Valentine, will soon be upon us. Valentine (Latin, Valentinus) is a difficult personage to nail down historically; Valentinus was a common name between the 2nd and 8th centuries, and there are numerous martyrs who bore this moniker. What I have presented here is my own take on the tale most commonly told about THE Valentine after whom the day is named; that is, he was a bishop near Rome who was martyred at some point around 270 AD for his faith and for performing Christian marriages. Tradition gives us the tale of his healing the judge’s blind daughter. Little else is known about this particular historical Valentine; of course, my account is fictionalized and I took artistic and historical license, but I hope the message gets through. Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.” William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” Revelation 19:6-8

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:25-33

Near the River

A recent conversation I had with a friend reminded me of this piece that I wrote several years ago. I posted it back then, but took it down after a few weeks for some unknown reason. However, said recent conversation (and the fact that I’m currently re-reading Augustine’s Confessions) reminded me that our own brokenness and healing can be a help to others who are struggling. This post is very personal and it was written at a very difficult time in my life, but also at a time when I was beginning to change for the better. I have, by God’s grace, grown considerably since I wrote this, and I am daily thankful that the hands of my King are the hands of the Healer. I hope that this might be a help to you if you feel like life will never get better. Dear one, cling to Christ! And if you’re hurting don’t be afraid to seek help – from professionals, from your community, and from your family and friends.

I grew up near the river. As I walk on its banks in the summer heat, the insects are dancing upon its surface, and singing in the trees behind me. It is life, the golden green of the sunlight shining through a hungry canopy of leaves. The earth bakes beneath my feet, river mud sometimes full of water, sometimes, in the dry times, dry as though it had never tasted the river before. But this too is life, a touch from the fountain of the sun – not so heavy as to turn the breathing earth into breathless desert, but just heavy enough. I grew up with the river mud sometimes beneath my feet, sometimes painted across my face and chest to ward off mosquitoes and make me appear fierce as a warrior. But war is out of place here. The fighting makes no sense of life.

I’ve been fighting for so long now. I’ve been too long away from the river, away from life. In a comfortable room, a gentle therapist speaks a word I’ve always feared – trauma. I am hungry. Sleepless. My pants are too loose on me now. I just want to sleep, to feel better. Trauma, she says. I know, I know, I know. I grew up near the river, and the singsong voices of the land that birthed me. But my eyes have seen much death. My hands have been too empty reaching for hands that pull away, or are pulled away. The shouting, the blood, the screams, the dreams that haunt me. The rootlessness, the wandering from one place to the next, and mockingly calling it all an adventure. Trauma. Death with names and faces attached. And I am not myself.

But life. Life is still here, amidst the silent hallways and doorways and empty rooms of a walking death. There is still life. The river still flows, and I grew up near the river. But there is a dark tree called Trauma. It is big as a black oak, fastened tight to my soul. And it eats and eats, and the river feeds its taproot, and it grows so large that the whole forest of living things seems to be overshadowed. This tree is death, and from every limb hangs the fruit of every beating my body has taken, every laceration of the mind, every screaming agony of a heart that has screamed itself voiceless. It is the narrative I have been living in for the past several years, my Chateau d’if, my City of Dis; it is the gnawing worm that eats the pages of the man I am, and want to be. It is the liturgy that teaches me that no matter where I go I’ll always have to remind people that if I fall asleep, I’m not to be touched or awoken too swiftly. It’s the million little voices saying Don’t trust, don’t trust, they only mean to hurt you. It’s the wall I’ve built of brokenness, though I can never build it so high I don’t feel insecure. Trauma is a walking death hidden behind a smile and a well-acted struggle through the day.

But life. There is life here. The singsong voices breaking forth in melody, the sunlight shining its rays through holes in the canopy, the unfed sapling being robbed of sustenance by the dark oak. This is life, and everything that makes life worth living. And the gentle Husbandman Who planted the sapling named her Hope. She is small, but she sings so wonderfully, so beautifully. She tells her stories in a simple, truthful voice. Death must shout the lie that all things end, because the beautiful truth has caught my ear and eye – we endure. Life and peace and joy. Love endures, no matter how much you’ve lost. And it isn’t just the trudging from one day into the next. It is the gentle flowing of a river, it is the golden green of an illuminated canopy. It is the arms of your grandmother wrapped around you, as she tells you everything is going to be okay. It is the message from a friend telling you he’s there if you need to talk. It is the countless miles I’ve walked through the shining lands, eyes wide open to grandeur not my own, beauty in which I participate as a fellow chorister. It is the words of loving teachers painting new worlds in which I am to play. It is the playing under the Father’s watchful eye. And I hope, someday, it will be my watchful eye seeing my sons and daughters playing with their mother beneath the sun. But now I play, and fall, and am dusted off and set aright by hands more loving, by Love.

And I hope, and hope is my song. Hope is the trench I dig, the little irrigation channel to the sapling. Hope is the song I sing to the sapling, the song that has been sung to me by the eternal Word. And the little tree sings in her growing. The time has come to leave the shadowlands behind, the pseudo-life. I am ready to live.

And the once great oak, the dreadful oak whose fruit is a thousand little everyday dyings – it must itself die, starved of the life I once gave to it. I am not my trauma. I am not the constant wandering, running from a hopeless future.

There is no going back. I’m not naïve. “How do you pick up the threads of an old life?” wrote Professor Tolkien. “How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?” I will never be the little boy playing in the river mud again. I have been uprooted. But I must be. I must go on. I must find the rootedness that time and pain have taken from me. And I will. I promise to myself. By God’s grace (and He is merciful) I will. And my little sapling will thrive, and the old oak will die. And one day, inquisitive children will ask what happened to the old, dead tree. And my life will tell the story of a man reborn, who, when given the choice between life or death, by God’s grace chose life.

And they will see the tall, living oak growing beside the river, bearing the fruit of peace and a life well-lived.