Pay Attention to Directional Language

Gain spiritual insight by understanding which direction a person tells you they’re moving in—including yourself.

Luke Burgis

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Depiction of Augustine under the fig tree: “Tolle lege”

Desire Is Movement

I’ve been reading a lot of Augustine recently, partly as research for a (potential) new book project.

I was struck to find that, in his Confessions, Augustine describes the period just prior to his conversion experience as one in which mimetic models of desire were the main catalyst.

Augustine was studying in Carthage at the time, and he was increasingly anxious and unsettled. It seemed to him that he was wasting his life away following his egotistical desires — including his “burning passions” — at every step of the way.

All the while, he longed for an interior peace which eluded him.

He lived in the unbearable tension between desiring something intellectually — a new way of life — and his revelation that his will was too weak to pursue it. A nightmare.

“The will does what it wants,” a wise mentor once told me after I flung myself at his feet lamenting my inability to stop doing something I told him I didn’t ‘want’ to do.

One can ‘see’ the good and know the good but not be capable of doing the good.

Of course, this is an age-old spiritual reality — one dealt with extensively in many different spiritual traditions — and I won’t address it directly here. But these are the pangs Augustine was feeling. The same that any addict has felt.

Back to our story.

One day, Augustine speaks with an official in the emperor’s court named Ponticianus. He shares with Augustine, amused and perplexed at the same time, that two of his friends had recently stumbled into the home of a Christian and found within it a copy of the book Life of St. Anthony, by Athanasius.

They took and read the book. They learned how Anthony, after hearing the words of Jesus to the rich young man (“If you would be perfect, go and sell what you have, give it to the poor…and come, follow me….”), followed them immediately: Anthony, after hearing this story, left everything behind and dedicated his life to this…

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Luke Burgis

Author of “WANTING: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life.” Find more at read.lukeburgis.com