St. Augustine: Confessions

During my self-dictated Lenten studies, Confessions was my Tuesday night reading. But it didn’t take long for me to read it other days as well, being immediately engrossed. As a convert soon approaching the day of Confirmation, this was exactly the book I needed at that point in my life. And it’s not merely for converts, either—it can be a renewal of love for God, support in the darkest times, and a guide to understanding the love one already holds for Him.

It was during Holy Week that I finally got to the part of his actual conversion, as he literally cried to God. It was the long-overdue understanding that He is everything, and that Augustine had been wasting his life on mere human pleasures.

(Way to punch me in the gut, St. Augustine.)

My journal is littered with quotes from his confessions, of which I’ll share a portion, because there’s no way I can improve upon these perfect and often heart-shattering words.

I do not know where I came from when I was born into this life which leads to death—or should I say, this death which leads to life?

My God, how I burned with longings to have wings to carry me back to you, away from all earthly things, although I had no idea what you would do with me!

While my hunger was for you, the Truth itself, these were the dishes on which they served me up the sun and moon, beautiful works of yours but still only your works; not you yourself, not even the greatest of your created things. For your spiritual works are greater than these material things, however brightly they may shine in the sky… But I gulped down this food, because I thought that it was you.

Blessed are those who love you, O God, and love their friends in you and their enemies for your sake. They alone will never lose those who are dear to them, for they love them in one who is never lost, in God, our God who made heaven and earth and fills them with his presence, because by filling them he made them.

How could someone who lived nearly 1,500 years before me know the most intimate yearnings of my heart? It’s as if we were in the garden together, struggling between the earthly and Heavenly worlds, simultaneously hit with that love and desire for God in all His glory.

Part of me wants to read this one again, right away, but I have a whole other stack of books I want to get through first.

Talkin’ ’bout Work

Work isn’t often a topic that pops up on a God blog. For a place where most of us spend the majority of our time, it’s not a place we often think of Him at all. Religion is a private affair, and has no place in the office. This has bothered me for a while.

I love what I do. I’m in Children’s book production, which (in short) means I’m the one who gets books printed. I know the approximate price of adding glitter to a cover or using a special paper. I brainstorm with the editor and designer over what works best for each title. I talk to the printers to get the best quality book for our budget.

I know God was in my career path from the beginning, because I had no clue what I wanted to do in publishing—only that I wanted make books. It had to be divine intervention to fall into Production “by chance.” Ten years later and I’m still here, and still 100% into what I do.

But I wasn’t using that gift for His sake, and over time felt more and more weird about it.

I wasn’t necessarily job searching. I was happy enough where I was, waiting for that big promotion (that probably wasn’t happening). I even ignored that one job listing that required my exact experience, which seemed to be open forever. Until I realized it was in Christian books.

I imagine there was Heavenly rejoicing, a collective sigh of relief when God and His angels could finally push me along after I’d applied. Because everything after that moment happened so quickly. In a mere week, I had an interview. In another three days, I had an offer.

Not only was the position in Christian books, but Children’s books—my pride and joy. It’s the same business. I still quote books, and requote books, and plead with printers to improve ship dates. But it’s for Him. Piled on my desk, I have board books retelling Bible stories. Picture books declaring the love of Jesus. Children’s first devotionals. One day, I had this massive tome on my desk: a 600-page, hardcover, Bible graphic novel. This thing is a brick. It looks epic. Someone passed by, glanced at it, and said, “If this was around when I was a kid, maybe I’d still be going to church.”

It made me sad, but also a little hopeful. The Bible isn’t this old, dry book you’re forced to read in Sunday School. It’s awesome. And we’ll keep on publishing different versions of the same Bible stories, because each kid is receptive in a different way. Maybe someone is drawn to that graphic novel. Maybe someone else needs a bullet-pointed introduction. I pray that someone, somewhere, who maybe isn’t convinced about this God thing, sees this cool-looking book and and starts thumbing through it. Maybe this kid starts to think that God is pretty cool after all.

I get to be a part of that. Books help define me. I’m blessed to have been dropped into a field where I can create them. And to create books about God? I’m the one who cries just holding a Bible. The unchanging, eternal Word. The literal words of God on paper, beautifully bound and maybe gilted in gold, with a ribbon marker or two, whether it’s cased in leather or cloth or sheepskin…

Once, I illegally snapped a photo of the Gutenberg that’s on display at the New York Public Library (no flash, I promise).

Later, my friend asked, “Is that like visiting Mecca for you?”

Yes. Yes, it is.

Or, you know, Jerusalem.

Waking Up Catholic

I had tried extremely hard not to put labels on my faith; however, society’s norms crept in. I labeled myself a non-denominational Christian, but it didn’t bother me. As long as I was practicing my faith in ways that I enjoyed I decided that labels didn’t matter.

The subtitle claims this to be for converts, but I’ll argue it’s for everyone. It’s for Catholics who don’t know how to explain their faith. It’s for non-Catholics who don’t know what those people believe. It’s for Catholic friends of converts who want to understand the church from where their companions once hailed.

This little book is deceiving. It’s not flowery or preachy; it’s peppered with grammatical errors and sometimes he shares the same story more than once. But from chapter one, we’re discussing the Trinity. Chapter two is all about going “non-denominational” and avoiding labels. (Hence the quote up top. I could’ve written that myself.) It’s simple, but it’s also clever. Because each chapter builds upon the last, and by the end we have this new, complete knowledge of Catholicism. And then we’re instructed to tell others about it. Go be evangelicals. Tell everyone how great God is.

I only wish I’d had this book months ago, because it’s a really good beginning to the conversion journey.