St. Augustine enjoyed watching lizards catch flies. He also confessed that he would become quite distracted at the sight of a dog hot on a rabbit’s heels, or a spider entangling its prey (Confessions, 10.35.57). Although he blames himself for being enamored of these trifling spectacles, it is refreshing to see a more casual and intimate side to one of the greatest minds and saintliest bishops in history.
It is often easy to forget that the saints lived in the same world we live in—that they weren’t always performing miracles and pouring forth torrents of sublime teaching, but were sometimes zoned out at their desk or nodding off at inopportune moments. And yet for the saints there is something special even in these ordinary, daily occurrences with which the rest of us are well acquainted. For St. Augustine, the simplest sights were occasions to glorify God. “From them I proceed to praise You, the wonderful Creator and Disposer of all things,” he writes. St. Thérèse’s chapel naps provided her with ample material for meditating on God’s love and His saving work: “I know that children are just as dear to their parents whether they are asleep or awake and I know that doctors put their patients to sleep before they operate.”
When speaking about the Christian life, Pope Benedict XVI describes it as an “encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon” (Deus caritas est, §1). This is a point that must be stressed again and again against the dominant, skeptical worldview. Faith is not an escape from the real world, a way to cope with the absurdity and meaninglessness of existence. Rather, it is only by faith that we can be in touch precisely with the real world. We still live our human life, we see and experience the same things as everyone else, but nothing is the same. The stars are still balls of gas burning billions of miles away, but now they speak to us of One who is at the same time at the farthest limits of the universe, and closer than our inmost self:
I asked the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars [whether they are God]: ‘We are not,’ say they, ‘the God whom you seek…’ And I answered unto all these things which stand about the door of my flesh, ‘You have told me concerning my God, that you are not He; tell me something about Him.’ And with a loud voice they exclaimed, ‘He made us!’ (Confessions, 10.6.9)
The most common of actions, even going to bed and waking up in the morning, when done in the light of faith, can call to mind the saving events of the Paschal Mystery: “Lord, be with us throughout this night. When day comes may we rise from sleep to rejoice in the resurrection of Your Christ” (Closing Prayer, Compline, Sunday Night 1).
From the vantage point of this new horizon, may we consider nothing too ordinary to be of use for our spiritual life. In the spirit of Daniel 3, All you lizards, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.