Thursday, 18 November 2010

Augustine, inside out

I made a start today on reading through the early letters of St. Augustine.  This semester, I've been reading the four dialogues Augustine wrote while in retreat at Cassiciacum, near Lake Como in Italy, in 386-87, during the time between his conversion to Christianity and his baptism.  The dialogues themselves are revealing of the inward turn Augustine took in his own search for Truth and which he advocated for his students, and the letters provide yet another intimate level of evidence showing this trend in his thought.

What struck me most today about these letters, though, is that, as personal as Augustine's investigation of his own mind and soul was, it also enabled him to achieve a remarkable depth in his interpersonal relationships as well.  As he shows in his famous prayer at the opening of the second book of the Soliloquies -- "Noverim me, noverim te (May I know myself, may I know you)" -- Augustine realized that self-knowledge could only be achieved through knowledge of God.  And what could be more universally meaningful, what could bind friends together more powerfully, than an understanding of all people as creatures made by God, in his image?  Keeping this in mind, it seems only natural that Augustine and his friends wrote to one another about their intense longing to be physically present together and to compare the findings of their soul-searching and to test their tentative conclusions against each other.  All people being equal and united under God, it only makes sense that friends should assist one other in their ascent towards Truth.

As I admired the intimacy of Augustine's correspondence and the import of the issues at stake therein, I inevitably recognized the general shallowness of my own correspondence.  For this, to whatever degree it exists, I take full personal responsibility -- I'm not tempted toward a tritely gloomy reflection on the detriment of modern media on our social relationships.  What an endlessly facile scapegoat technology can be.  But I'll avoid getting heavy on this point.

So, instead, the day's culinary highlights.  I continue to explore the new Essential New York Times Cookbook, and it hasn't led me astray so far.  Tonight, I had planned to try out Mark Bittman's Pork and Sweet Potatoes in Coconut Milk, but I had to sub in chicken at the last minute when I discovered -- the nose doesn't lie -- that my pork had gone off.  The dish turned out well anyway, with the coconut milk reducing into a thickish creamy sauce that I finished with lime juice.  I served it with Basmati Rice with Coconut Milk and Ginger, from the same book, which turned out to be a nice match as well as a good way to use up the rest of my can of coconut milk.  Tonight, after reaching my brain's limit in gathering thoughts for a new paper, I whipped up, finally, a batch of Dorie Greenspan's Great Grains muffins, which I've wanted to try for a long time.  I've flash frozen them to bake up tomorrow morning -- there's no better incentive to get out of bed than fresh muffins.  We'll see how they turn out.

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