We may now return to the topic of cosmic emptiness, loneliness, and alienation. We said that if we pay no attention to our desire for perfect home, it will go unfulfilled, bringing in its wake cosmic emptiness and loneliness.
However, if we do give the reality of perfect home the benefit of the doubt, then we will not only move beyond these peculiar feelings of emptiness and loneliness, but will also likely produce tremendous good for others, the common good, and the Kingdom of God.
We will do valiantly in the cosmic struggle between good and evil, and will be the source of great light, love, peace, and goodness in a world desperately trying to stave off darkness and evil.
If you give the reality of perfect home the benefit of the doubt, you will be like the great St. Augustine, who not only fared bravely for the cause of good, but found himself at the entrance to the home he so greatly desired.
St. Augustine speaks about this adventurous journey in his autobiography, The Confessions. He lived about 400 years after Christ and was a very successful student, teacher, orator, and writer who had many friends and admirers, a devoted mother, and incredible opportunities to advance himself in society as an intellectual and scholar.
Yet he felt this persistent “spiritual emptiness” – a sense of not being at home in the whole of reality – what he called, “a restless heart.”
In his earlier life, when he was particularly obsessed with worldly pleasures and success, the sense of spiritual emptiness and alienation became quite acute, but he didn’t notice that it was “spiritual” – just a very acute sense of emptiness and loneliness in the whole of reality.
This strange feeling induced him to start searching for something that could truly satisfy him – that could truly make him feel at home within himself and in the whole of reality. He knew worldly and material successes could not produce it so he tried to find it in his friendships with people – the women he loved, and the teachers he respected, but this did not make the emptiness go away.
He still felt that something truly important was missing – that he was not at home here. He then tried to take solace in philosophy, the great ideas, the arts, and the intellectual life, but this too left him empty, lonely, and alienated – not at home in the whole of reality.
In his search, he began to take seriously something that he had ignored for a long time – God.
At first, Augustine viewed God as an idea – as an ultimate cause, an ultimate ground of being, and an ultimate source of design – something which the Platonists believed had to exist, and could be proved to exist. But the idea of God did not make the emptiness go away. He finally encountered some genuinely intellectual priests – principally St. Ambrose – who explained to him that God was not just an ultimate cause or an ultimate ground of existence and design, but a perfectly loving personal being – and then he understood what he had been searching for.
Somehow he realized that the only thing that could ultimately satisfy him – the only thing that would enable him to be perfectly at home within the whole of reality – was a perfectly loving personal being who wanted to be with him. He understood the significance of this and prayed at the beginning of The Confessions — “For Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”
He did not stop there – he wanted to know everything about the one who had called him from the beginning – the one he had ignored. And so he began a journey of not only theological investigation, but prayer – and at long last, he began to feel a lifting of the emptiness, loneliness, and alienation he had felt for so long.
As he prayed to this perfectly loving being and integrated himself more deeply into the Church, he felt the spiritual emptiness begin to lift, and felt God’s presence breaking through the barriers he had formerly set up, and the more he let God into his heart, the more he found himself loving that God and desiring to serve him.
He wrote a prayer describing his life that goes like this:
Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!
…You were with me, but I was not with you.
…You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
You flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
You lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
St. Augustine went on to do tremendous good for the Kingdom of God. He was one of the most important Christian philosophers of all time, published 30 encyclopedic volumes (encompassing over 100 separate titles) of philosophy and theology, had influence on dozens of Church Councils throughout the centuries, was the spiritual inspiration of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, was the Bishop of Hippo Regius, and a great defender of the Christian Creed.
All he did to get started was to pay attention to his feelings of spiritual emptiness and loneliness – and begin the search to alleviate them. This led him to an awareness of the desire for perfect home (and the perfectly loving personal being intrinsic to it).
He then opened himself to the reality of this loving God, who in turn came to him – with inspiration, protection, and guidance. The more deeply he entered into prayer, the Church community, and service of the Kingdom, the more he was led to greater opportunities to be light for the world – a herald of the true dignity and destiny of humanity. The rest is history.
Our next post will be our final post on the topic of the interior sense of God; stay tuned.