(354 – 430)

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When deep reflection had drawn up out of the secret depths of my soul all my misery and had heaped it up before the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm, accompanied by a mighty rain of tears. That I might give way fully to my tears and lamentations, I stole away from Alypius, for it seemed to me that solitude was more appropriate for the business of weeping. I went far enough away that I could feel that even his presence was no restraint upon me. This was the way I felt at the time, and he realised it. I suppose I had said something before I started up and he noticed that the sound of my voice was choked with weeping. And so he stayed alone, where we had been sitting together, greatly astonished. I flung myself down under a fig tree - how I know not - and gave free course to my tears. The streams of my eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to you. And, not indeed in these words, but to this effect, I cried to you: 'O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord will you be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former iniquities (Psalm 6:3).' For I felt that I was still enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries: 'How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?'

I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl, I know not which, coming from the neighbouring house, chanting over and over again, 'Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.' Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Scriptures and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony [of the Desert], accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: 'Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me (Matthew 19:21).' By such an oracle he was immediately converted to you. So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle's book [the letters of St Paul] when I had left that place. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: ‘Let us live decently as people do in the daytime: no drunken orgies, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy.  Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ; forget about satisfying your bodies with all their cravings.’ (Rom 13:13-14).  I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away."
Confessions, Book VIII, ch. 12

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In their many different idioms the classical spiritual writers have attempted to throw light on the eternal question of union with God. 
Every month we give you a brief passage from a spiritual classic.