Thoughts about my restlessness in this strange year draw echoes from Augustine’s Confessions, from the philosophy of Josef Pieper, and from my chosen word for 2021, “magnanimity.”
inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te our hearts are restless until they rest in thee ---Augustine, Confessions vol. 1
I have never been as restless as I have been this year. I am constantly taking more and longer walks, unable to sit still and enjoy my work or my rest. Oddly enough, twenty-five years ago I was particularly good at sitting still and being comfortable; I was probably the most comfortable person I knew. Over the years, I have come to enjoy work more and more, and my times of confession have featured less and less about indolence. But I have never been as restless as I have been this year.
It may be in part the lack of social interaction, due to the pandemic. It may be my age, or a physical development. Part of it, though, is the increasing weight of my hopes. This year I dreamed new dreams. I dreamed of a hospitable home in the country; I dreamed of deeper friendships; I dreamed of education within intimate community; I dreamed of a band of Resonators like the Inklings; I dreamed of writing flowing freely out of me. I tasted crumbs of these dreams, and my soul leapt at them, willing to do any kind of work to make them manifest. Willing to do any kind of work, but not willing to wait.
Magnanimity, writes Josef Pieper, is the virtue of great aspiration of the soul. It has been seen as an intensifier of every virtue: “every virtue is borne along on a current that receives and guards the courageous unrest of our natural hope.” (101) The virtue which must accompany it, give it boundaries and keep it real, is humility—and humility means a decision to live as though we are creatures before the face of God. The moments when I have known the most peace in this season were those when I cried out to God in prayer, submitted my will, and felt his assurance that he is in control.
Why does Augustine say our heart is restless, in that famous quote? We are a part of God’s creation, he says, and so we want—we need—to praise Him. Despite all the trouble and fear of life, reality is that we are creatures made for Him, and there is no rest in living in denial of that reality.
It seems to me, today, that the more I embrace greatness of soul—magnanimity—the more I will need to spend time in creaturliness—humility. Larger dreams weigh more, and can never be balanced by mere pleasures or escapes. Great dreams can only be balanced by the weight of “Thy will be done.”
Joshua C. Shaw, ed., Saint Augustine’s Confessions Book 1: Latin Text. JCSTexts, 2020.
Josef Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love. Ignatius Press, 1997. [I was reading Hope, originally published as Über die Hoffnung, 1934.]