My favorite copy of St. Augustine’s Confessions is an old gray paperback, its binding worn, and its pages splayed from years of ruffling. Sometimes I close my office door and read slices of the ancient text aloud, giving my ears a moment to feel the weight of the words. I find it important to read Confessions aloud because it reminds me of perhaps the most important thing about it: that this is a book written for me, but not to me. It is not I but God to whom Augustine confesses.
Pacing my office with Augustine’s words in my mouth is a strange experience because it poses a living question: To whom am I speaking when I speak his words? Am I too speaking to the living God? In the moments when I can say “yes” to that question, the deep power of Augustine’s masterpiece unfolds in real time. It is then that, despite the sixteen centuries between us, Augustine becomes again a living teacher, an educator who tutors me in how to relate to God by teaching me how to listen and how to speak.
We all know what it is like to be in the presence of such a teacher—how they unseal doors we did not know were locked, how they pursue us across land and sea not to capture but to lead our restless hearts home, how they unclasp blinders from our eyes in order to make the startling, magnificent horizon visible.
Our hearts know the shape of the words spoken by a true teacher. They sound like those written by Augustine to God. And they sound like those written by Paul to his friends in Thessalonica. Perhaps today is a good time to read St. Paul’s words aloud.