When I was discerning religious life with the Augustinians, I was searching for something in my life that would give a sense of greater purpose. As I researched religious life, I discovered a Novitiate year was a common feature of formation in religious communities such as the Order of St. Augustine. I was very attracted to the idea of spending an entire year learning about God and about myself, along with the prospect that such a year would provide me with an opportunity to grow into a deeper relationship with God.
Once I finally arrived at the Novitiate in August of 2018, I discovered that I had a tendency to try to “force” the type of spiritual ascent that I longed for. I immediately took up some fairly rigorous practices involving reading and prayer in hope that these rigid routines would make me a more spiritual person. One day I told my novice director that I had begun reading the Bible cover-to-cover. To my surprise, he responded “that’s the exact opposite of what I’ve asked you to do.” Little did I know in that moment that I was about to learn a very important lesson in my journey into Augustinian spirituality.
In his own search for God, Saint Augustine discovered he was looking for God in things outside of himself when God within.
You were always there inside me and I was running around outside. I was looking for you out there, and confused as I was, I threw myself upon those beautiful things that you had made. You were always in me, but I was not always in you. Created things kept me apart from you even though they themselves could only exist in you.Saint Augustine, The Confessions, 10.27.38
Augustine discovered he had to turn within himself to find the God he was looking for. That is, to search for God within his own desires, passions, motivations, and experiences. In true Augustinian fashion, my Novice director urged me “Do not go outside yourself, but turn back within, truth resides in the inner man; and if you discover that your nature is changeable, go beyond yourself”.
I had discovered I was looking for outside answers to interior problems.
I would describe myself as a person of structure, rules and order. It was very hard for me to abandon a project such as reading the Bible cover-to-cover which appealed to my comfort with routine. Further, as a Six on the Enneagram, I discovered I often resist trusting my own inner guidance, choosing instead to turn towards these outside supports. I discovered I had become comfortable with the many ways our Catholic tradition offers opportunities to express our faith exteriorly. I now had to learn how to cultivate the interior life behind those expressions.
Yet, as Augustine discovered, it is challenging work to turn our search for God from outside to within. Speaking from my own experience, I have found that we often resist it because we are afraid of what we may find when we take an honest look within. We are afraid of facing things like our weaknesses and shortcomings. Yet, when we feel scattered, confused and overwhelmed by the demands of our life circumstances and our relationships, we find all the more reason to plumb deeper into where God is calling us to be. This is because it is in the depths of our hearts that God meets us. Though we may at times find the stain of our human weaknesses, it is there that we find the love of God.
This is the deep intimacy with God that we are called to share in the Augustinian way of life. Though we know that God is always with us and knows us better than we know ourselves, it’s when we place ourselves in front of his loving gaze that this intimacy grows, propelling us to share that same love to our brothers and our fellow children of God.
“Let us leave a little room for reflection in our lives, room too for silence. Let us look within ourselves and see whether there is some delightful hidden place inside where we can be free of noise and argument. Let us hear the Word of God in stillness and perhaps we will then come to understand it.”Saint Augustine (Sermon 52, 22)
Perhaps we can all use a little more space in our lives to search for God in our desires, passions, motivations, and experiences by simply looking within. To look within by resting in stillness more frequently with the God who loves us.