Come With Me


The knowledge of God’s mystery is Christ.
–The Apostle Paul

Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.
–Saint Augustine

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine, alive as you or me.
–Bob Dylan

A bit of autobiography, because we are our stories
And we are known in the telling of our stories…

It was a Sunday afternoon in June and I was sitting on my porch reading a very old book. The book was The Confessions of Saint Augustine and I was reading it primarily because I was somewhat embarrassed that I never had. I knew Saint Augustine was a towering figure whose influence on the church and Christian thought cannot be overemphasized, so I eventually decided I ought to read his spiritual autobiography. Some have called Confessions the first real autobiography in history and if not the first it is certainly one of the most influential. Written 1,600 years ago, the entire book is a prayer—that is, it is addressed to God in the form of a three hundred page prayer of thanksgiving as Augustine reviews his life from his days as a profligate sinner to his life-altering encounter with Jesus Christ. As I sat with old Saint Augustine on my porch that Sunday afternoon, I had no inkling that the story of a fourth century church father would become a pivotal point in my own spiritual pilgrimage. But because it’s a great story and also because it pertains to what I want to tell you, let me share with you how Augustine became a Christian.

Aurelius Augustine was born a Roman citizen and the son of a pagan land owner on November 13, 354 in the North African town of Tagaste (in modern day Algeria). Augustine possessed a brilliant mind, excelled in academics; he became a professor of rhetoric in Carthage and Rome and eventually settled in Milan. By all outward appearances Augustine was a young man who had the world by the tail—he was intelligent, successful and had acquired a measure of fame and a comfortable income. But Augustine also lived an immoral life, and though he increasingly suffered pangs of conscience from his degenerate lifestyle, he could not break free from it. While living in Milan Augustine first began to seriously consider the Gospel of Jesus Christ as he heard the preaching of Ambrose, the famous Bishop of Milan. He was also deeply affected by the conversion to Christianity of four friends who formerly had been just as worldly and sensual as he was.

In September of 386, when Augustine was thirty-one years old, he came to the point of a spiritual crisis. A close friend and colleague by the name of Alypius was visiting Augustine in his home. While they sat together around a table, entertaining themselves with a board game, Augustine suddenly blurted out, “What’s wrong with us? Our friends with less learning than we have taken heaven by force while we continue to wallow in the flesh. What is wrong with us?”

Even close friends rarely speak with such transparency; usually we prefer to keep our conversation comfortably trivial. Alypius was surprised by Augustine’s soul-baring and simply stared as Augustine began to weep. Feeling embarrassed by this unaccustomed display of emotion, Augustine left the room and went into a garden adjoining the house. Retiring to the furthest corner of the garden, Augustine flung himself down under a fig tree as the turmoil in his soul overflowed and he began to sob uncontrollably. Lying under the fig tree Augustine cried out, “How long! How long must I be like this? How long will I be unclean? Will it always be tomorrow? Why not now? Why can’t this be the hour?”

As Augustine writhed under the fig tree in despair, he heard the voice of little boy or girl from a neighboring house chanting, “Tolle lege, tolle lege.” (Take and read, take and read.) Augustine pondered if there were any games or songs where children chant, “take and read”, but he couldn’t think of any and decided this was a message from God to take the first book he could lay his hand on and read the first thing that came to his eyes. Composing himself, Augustine returned to the house. Augustine the scholar had a house full of books, but the book he picked up happened to be a copy of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans; he opened it at random and his eyes fell upon this sentence: “Not in partying and drinking, not in sleeping around and immoral living, not in strife and envy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts.” Years later, Augustine would write these words concerning that moment: “No further would I read; I had no need. For instantly at the end of this sentence, my heart was infused with the light of full conviction and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.” This was the moment when Augustine began the adventure that would occupy the rest of his life—the quest to explore and know the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

From the moment Augustine under the fig tree heard the voice saying, “Take and read,” his life was reduced to a singularity of focus—the quest to explore and know the Son of God. Everything Augustine later accomplished—his ministry as a bishop, his work as a theologian, authoring the magnificent book City of God—was simply the “accidental” result of this one magnificent obsession. Augustine didn’t set out to become a great Christian or have a big ministry or do some monumental thing for God—he set out to know God in Christ. Wholeness and meaning were the elusive things that Augustine, despite his great learning and colossal intellect, had never been able to obtain—but he found them in Jesus Christ. Later Augustine would write: “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

As I sat on my porch reading Augustine’s story and thinking about how this man accomplished so much without trying to accomplish anything, but simply by becoming a man who was permanently on the adventure of knowing God in Christ, I found myself feeling envious. I thought, “What a way to live! A life focused on one thing. A life on the endless adventure to know God in Christ.” Then I sat my book down and prayed quietly: “Father, as best I can in this moment, I resolve to make knowing you as you are revealed in Christ the one great object of my life. I mean it. Help me to do it. Amen.”

As I sat for a few moments on the porch, something strange began to happen—three words began to repeat in my mind over and over. These words didn’t seem to originate in my head, they came from someplace much deeper. Deep was calling unto deep. The three words were, “come with me.” I wanted to say these words, “come with me,” over and over, “come with me.” I had a strange desire to find someone and say to them, “come with me.” Let me say it to you, “come with me!” Of course I know what you are thinking, “where are we going?” We’re going on the greatest adventure of all time. And if you ask, “How long will we be gone?” I’ll say, “We’re never coming back!” What is this adventure? It’s the ultimate adventure—the adventure of exploring God in Christ. And I must do this—I can’t be content with anything else. If I have to I’ll go alone, but I’d prefer to have company on the journey. Come with me.

In Prince Caspian, the fourth book in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy return to the magical land of Narnia. In the middle of the night Lucy encounters Aslan. Aslan sends Lucy to awaken her brothers and sister and invite them to follow him through the night. As Peter, Susan and Edmund protest (not believing “poor old Lu” has really seen Aslan), Lucy says, “I do hope that you will come with me. Because—because I’ll have to go with him whether anyone else does or not.” I think I know how “poor old Lu” felt. Even if you only dimly perceive the real Aslan, once you catch a glimpse of him, you are ruined for everything else. You are fated to be a seeker.

There is a real Narnia. The mystery of Christ. You won’t find it in a professor’s wardrobe, but it exists. The real-life Narnia isn’t the banal Christianity of trite religiosity and cheap certitude that is often little more than memorizing Bible trivia and adopting a particular form of moralism. Following Jesus is not a moralistic or scholastic enterprise.

To be honest I never cared much for school. I got off to a bad start in kindergarten. We were learning to count to ten in Spanish—an exercise I mastered fairly quickly. So as we sat there repeating over and over, uno, dos, tres… I got bored and started drumming on my little kindergarten desk. Eventually the teacher told me to stand in the corner. This came as quite a shock. Could they really make you stand in a corner? Just because you were bored? Apparently they could. But as I stood in the corner mulling over my plight, I came to the conclusion that this was a perfect waste of time…especially on such a beautiful day. And since I already knew how to count to ten in Spanish there wasn’t much of reason to stay. So I turned around and matter-of-factly told the teacher, “I’m going home now.” And I did. Mrs. Potts gave pursuit but couldn’t catch me and fifteen minutes later I was home. When my mother asked why I was home so early, I explained to her what had happened and was certain she would understand. She didn’t…and sent me back.

Though I’m sure it’s no one’s fault but my own, my interest in school never really returned. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge and I love to learn, but sitting at a desk day after day in order to memorize a curriculum without really thinking has never appealed to me. And if I thought the essence of the Christian life was learning to memorize a religious curriculum so I could spout out, “King Hezekiah!” at the right moment—I would be profoundly disappointed. Sure, I can tell you that Hezekiah was the sixteenth king of Judah who in the seventh century B.C. led Israel in moral and spiritual renewal—but learning Bible facts has always been in the larger context of living the adventure of exploring God. An analogy of the Christian life that would be more accurate (and far more appealing!) than sitting in school would be that of an expedition.

In 1804 Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the Louisiana Purchase. For a year and half Lewis and Clark and their expedition team journeyed through the uncharted West in an odyssey of discovery. What an adventure that must have been! These were explorers! Adventurers! They weren’t sitting at desks memorizing names and dates devoid of meaning—they were making discoveries in a subjective experience. Every morning brought something new. Every day their task fed the spirit of adventure: press on further west and make a new discovery. When they saw the Rocky Mountains their objective was simple (though not easy): find a way across and discover what’s on the other side. The Lewis and Clark expedition was difficult and dangerous, but never boring!

This is what I’m talking about when I say, come with me. I’m not asking you to sit at a desk and learn Bible trivia devoid of context so you can smugly say, “look at what a smart little Christian I’ve become.” I’m inviting you to come with me to Narnia—to explore the mysteries of Christ. This is the odyssey you were created for, this the divine mystery that will satisfy your soul. It’s not a theme park safari ride where you follow a cement circle in a make believe adventure that you’ll soon outgrow—this is the real thing! The quest to explore God in Christ is exciting and challenging and rewarding and yes, dangerous. And I do hope that you will come with me—because I’ll have to go whether anyone else does or not.