I’ve been reading The Confessions by St. Augustine for class. I first read his work when I was putting together The Renaissance Service, the arts-based vespers that looked to the arts as a window to the divine. I remember learning about his mother, Monica, who wept as she prayed for her “prodigal” son; she was told by a bishop that is was “inconceivable that he should perish, a son of tears like yours.” Beautiful. Now I’m reading his work less with an eye to his conversion but the later formulations of his theology and doctrine. Still, woven in between the lines of his unrestrained mea culpas and his gifted rhetoric, there are prayer poems so sublime and gracious they seem to transcend all the other words.
This morning I came across this one. I hadn’t seen it in a decade but as I read the lines they felt as familiar as if I’d written them myself. Suddenly, I remembered why. I had used this prayer at the center point of one of the services, and chosen with care the man to read it. He was an actor—a lifelong grasper and wrangler and sparring partner of faith—who doesn’t simply read aloud but orates like the lead in the Shakespearean dramas he is so often asked to play. I can still hear his voice booming, breaking, in the candlelit dark as he read these words. Words written by St. Augustine over 1500 years ago, and which still bring comfort to weary and restless souls today…
O Lord our God,
grant us to trust in your overshadowing wings:
protect us beneath them and bear us up.
You will carry us as little children,
and even to our grey-headed age you will carry us still.
When you are our strong security, that is strength indeed,
but when our security is in ourselves, that is but weakness.
Our good abides ever in your keeping,
but in diverting our steps from you we have grown perverse.
Let us turn back to you at last, Lord, that we be not overturned.
Unspoilt, our good abides with you,
for you are yourself our good.
We need not fear to find no home again
because we have fallen away from it;
while we are absent our home falls not to ruins,
for our home is your eternity.
Painting: “Sunset” by Georges Roualt