Saturday, August 29, 2009

My Weight is My Love

I love this picture of Augustine thinking as he writes The City of God, (De Civitate Dei). Many pagans had blamed the sack of Rome of 410 on the Emperor's abandonment of the traditional gods and embracement of the new Christian religion, so Augustine embarked on a 13-year, 22-books long answer. He pointed to two different cities. "Two loves have created these two cities," he said, "namely, self-love to the extent of despising God, the earthly; love of God to the extent of despising one's self, the heavenly city. The former glories in itself, the latter in God."
Love is a constant theme in Augustine. Some time earlier he had written in the Confessions, "A body by its weight tends to move towards its proper place. The weight’s movement is not necessarily downwards, but to its appropriate position: fire tends to move upwards, a stone downwards. They are acted on by their respective weights; they seek their own place. Oil poured under water is drawn up to the surface on top of the water. Water poured on top of oil sinks below the oil. They are acted on by their respective densities, they seek their own place. Things which are not in their intended position are restless. Once they are in their ordered position, they are at rest. [...] My weight is my love. Wherever I am carried, my love is carrying me. By your gift we are set on fire and carried upwards: we grow red hot and ascend."
This painting of Augustine looking up reminds me of this quote.
But there is another reason why this painting is dear to my heart. It was done by Emanuele Taglietti, the artist who has illustrated my children's biography of John Calvin. He had started to work on the Augustine book but decided not to continue. This decision, which nearly destroyed our friendship, was very difficult for me to accept. I knew I was largely to blame and felt terribly guilty. Someone told me that working with an illustrator is like a marriage. If that's the case, what I experienced in this case was a pain similar to that of a divorce.
Yesterday, however, he gave me permission to publish his painting here, which means a lot to me. It's like lifting an ugly cloud. Posting it here is liberating. As life goes on, wounds tend to heal and gaps tend to be filled, even as new wounds are inflicted and new gaps form. In this fallen and unsteady world, with all the mistakes I constantly make, I am always comforted by Proverbs 21:1, "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will." As Heidelberg Catechism Q28 says, "in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move." My weight is my love.

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