Tag Archives: St. Augustine

On the Confessions of St. Augustine

Dearest Father,

The last time I wrote you about the Numidian it was on his recent conversion, an act sparked by the death of a very dear friend. While I was dubious at the time that a similar situation would be the catalyst that brought me back to you, I was undeterred in my desire to finish the Numidian’s long letter, hopeful that at its end I would have come to a deeper understanding of what it means to have strayed and returned to the fold. I have at long last concluded his Confessions, but I must confess Father that no such understanding has come over me.

We left Augustine with his decision to become a catechumen and it appears that after this decision he was blessed with meeting the most favourable people, from his friend in conversion Alypius to the wonderful and eloquent Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. Such men helped our Numidian in his early days post-conversion, assisting him in weathering the storms of doubt, fear, pain and sorrow, and enabling him to rise above these calamities and finally see you with a clarity he had never before experienced. He studied very closely your scriptures, questioned the very nature of good and evil, and finally came to what can only be described as a breathless joy at being in your embrace. His words reveal an immense appreciation for his trials, and he even began to look fondly upon his past, saying that the joy of his conversion was made sweeter by the tribulations that preceded it.

Having fully returned to the House in heart as well as in body, and filled with what I suppose must have been a burning desire to know you intimately, he turned his mind to you and your creation, contemplating your grace and beauty, the power contained in your works, and the difficulty (if not impossibility) of describing such wonderful things in terms that simple mortal minds could comprehend.

And in this, his sudden acquiescence to all the doctrines and dogmas of the House, lies my problem Father. Like Augustine I have asked very many questions on very many topics. I have pondered the effects of your creation, the paradoxes inherent in your sacrifice. I have struggled with the whispers of Doubt. But unlike the great Numidian, I have no easy recourse to emotion. I have no friends whose deaths would cause me to seek you out, whose departures would make me crave the steady comfort of the House’s teachings. Unlike him I understand fundamentally that life is fleeting and that pain is real; ironically it is for this reason that I left the House and began my journey in the first place. Where he sought answers to calm the turbulent emotions in his heart, I seek answers to quiet the numerous questions in my head. Too quickly did he brush aside the very contradictions he raised, willing to overlook all inconsistencies before your might, whilst tearing down even the smallest errors in the teachings of the heretics.

Perhaps it was my mistake, reading his Confessions and hoping to be swayed in your favour. The heresy of my day lies not in some twisted interpretation of the works of your son, but in the very nature and existence of you, dearest Father, something our Numidian had already taken for granted.

But what is most troubling about his Confessions is not that they failed to move me, Father; it is the manner in which he concluded them. After waxing poetic on the wonders contained in your being, Augustine ended his missive with this:

“And what man can teach man to understand this? or what Angel, an Angel? or what Angel, a man? Let it be asked of Thee, sought in Thee, knocked for at Thee; so, so shall it be received, so shall it be found, so shall it be opened. Amen.”

Once again I am told that the answers I seek will not come to me from any man, or angel, or book, but from you Father, and once again I am compelled to ask when you will answer me. When will you put my mind to rest?

With disappointment and longing,

Your Prodigal Son

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On the Power of Loss

Dear Father,

I apologise most profusely for my long silence. As you must know, I have been heavily occupied these past weeks with worldly duties, compelled by your world and the rest of your children to put aside pen and paper and focus on things more directly affecting my survival. I am starting a new phase in my earthly life you see, one not at all tied to my quest for the great Sophia, and as you know such moments of change are often fraught with much activity and little respite. In addition this new phase brings with it new responsibilities, and so I am afraid such silences may become more frequent in the coming months. I will, of course, do my best to write with the expected regularity.

But no matter, Father, no matter; as always it is never my intent to fill my missives with descriptions of my mundane life. While I may have been busy with the trappings of my childish form, I have not completely abandoned my quest. My journey continues, with the words of Augustine and Russell keeping me company and providing much needed food for thought.

I must apologise for my stagnation with Augustine’s Confessions; even though I started reading his work at the same time I did Platocrates, I have since finished the Greek’s dialogue on justice but am yet to pass the halfway mark on the Numidian’s narrative. His prose is most dense dearest Father, a throwback to another time, and it is often rather difficult to process. With that in mind, however, I seem to have stumbled upon a seminal moment in his journey.

When I last read the Numidian he had made a most important decision; he had decided to become a catechumen, a student in the doctrines of your as yet undivided House. It took a series of (un)fortunate events to push the great saint in this direction, prime among which was the loss of a friend most dear to his heart. This loss and its subsequent transformation came during his many years of decadence and debauchery, at a time when he was young and given to the indulgence of varied human vices. He was most impressionable in those years, proud in the gifts of his intellect and content in the contrived praises of his friends. Reading his words it is evident that he considered himself happy at the time, fulfilled both in worldly outlook and in his daily habits.

The death of his friend, a man he claimed to love so much his soul could not be without, had a most profound effect on our Numidian, but I dare say it was the conversion of this fellow before his death that dealt the most damaging blow to Augustine. The man had fallen sick you see, and after an involuntary baptism it seemed he had become a changed man, marveling in the beauties of your works and shrinking away from the heathen proclivities he and Augustine had once shared. Our Numidian was stunned, heartbroken; but before he could get to the bottom of this change his friend was taken from him, killed by a relapse of the very illness that brought upon the baptism.

Augustine was grief-stricken, as you can imagine. In what I suspect was a few weeks he had twice lost a very close friend, in mind as well as in body. Such is the price we humans pay for attachment to things so temporal and fleeting, and it seems to me that it was this loss, and the confusion and grief that came with it, that drove the frightened child into your arms. Of course, we read his words after the fact; we see his experiences from the eyes of one that has already found you, and so it is only natural, as a member of the House, that he attribute whatever thoughts and transformations from this event to you. To use his words:

“Blessed whoso loveth Thee, and his friend in Thee, and his enemy for Thee. For he alone loses none dear to him, to whom all are dear in Him who cannot be lost. And who is this but our God, the God that made heaven and earth, and filleth them, because by filling them He created them? Thee none loseth, but who leaveth. And who leaveth Thee, whither goeth or whither teeth he, but from Thee well-pleased, to Thee displeased? For where doth he not find Thy law in his own punishment? And Thy law is truth, and truth Thou.”

Perhaps he felt that by loving you, by loving his friends in you, all death would become meaningless. After all if one is in you, one cannot really be lost.

Of course the fear of death and the grief it brings have long been used as tools to draw many into your House, and so in many ways Augustine’s thoughts are not out of the ordinary. They are to be expected, after all. His experience leaves me wondering Father, whether or not such a loss would be the tool by which you bring me back to you. It would be a most interesting turn of events, for while I hold a deep love for the members of my family and a number of friends, I cannot say that my grief at their passing would cause me to seek you out. I am already on this path for personal reasons; taking the few of your children I hold most dear may not do anything to sway me.

Now there are marked differences between the nature of Augustine’s journey and mine, and so it is no surprise that I doubt this would be the tool of my conversion. I am not quite as given to vice as he was; I derive my enjoyment more from exercises of the mind than the occasional indulgence of the flesh. Where he still believed in you, if not quite the you of House dogma, my questions are on your very presence and not on some ‘heretic’ interpretation of your existence.

Of course there are a few similarities; he mentions that he was called Agnostic by an old physician, a term I find myself leaning towards more and more, what with the buzzings and mutterings of Doubt above my head and the strong and as yet irrefutable words of both Russell and Descartes floating in my mind.

I would be remiss if I did not add that I am a little put off by the conclusion in his quote, for he references your justice, a system that as you know I have very strong feelings about. Such a calm acceptance of acts which do not appear to do any good further highlights the fundamental differences between himself and me, but once again in the interests of keeping an open mind I chalk it up to the fact that his words have been written after the fact. Perhaps when he lost his friend he did not think this way; perhaps when, if ever, I return home I shall look upon my time away with the Father-tinted glasses customary of all within the House.

I see my friend shaking his head and I must say that I am inclined to agree with him; in my current state it is difficult to imagine an experience that would send me running into your arms. Still, Father, stranger things have happened, and with Doubt beside me I am willing to think that perhaps my time shall come, as it did with the Numidian. One can only hope at such a time that all my questions would have been answered.

With tainted hope,

Your Prodigal Son

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On Sacrifices and Their Worth II

Dear Father,

But a few days ago, the Season of the Fast reached its end. Whether or not this was the initial intention of the Family elders when they planned the House Calendar, the end of the season coincides with the birth of spring and this, I believe, carries with it some powerful imagery. In my homeland, once termed the Dark Continent, we do not experience such things as spring and winter. For us, there are two seasons. The rains come and then they go, and they do so on a cycle that has nothing to do with the Season of the Fast. As a result back when I was young and in the House, any significance attached to the timing of the season’s end was lost on me. Not so in the land in which I find myself. Here the rains are beginning to fall after months of snowy skies. The trees are growing leaves again; the birds have picked up their songs, and squirrels have resumed their foraging. As the members of the House beat their drums and blow their trumpets in celebration, so too does the rest of nature. Significant, for the end of the season marks what has been termed the three most important days in the history of House, and by dogmatic extension, the history of the entire earth. It marks the death and resurrection of our brother and saviour, your perfect incarnation among your children.

But a few days ago the Universal Family, and those in the House that have not yet cast aside everything connected with the Family, bowed their heads to mark the Brother-Saviour’s crucifixion.  This, we are told, was the sacrifice of sacrifices, the sacrifice that ended all sacrifice. So great is the significance of this sacrifice that its extent is among the things that caused one of the greatest splits from the Universal Family. The reach of this sacrifice, the permanence of its effects, is a key dispute between my Family and the ever dividing Family of Rebels. Without this sacrifice, all is lost. Your children are eternally doomed, and You-Know-Who has won the battle. With this sacrifice, not only do we have a fighting chance, the tides have been turned irrevocably. Because of the blood of the Brother-Saviour, You-Know-Who is bound to lose. We know not the day or the hour, but we have been assured that when it comes, he will fall once and for all, never to rise again.

But anyone can die, or so they say. The real special thing about your sacrifice was the resurrection, the rebirth, so to speak. It makes for wonderful symbolism when your children’s voices are raised in praise, joy and exultation, marking the anniversary of your resurrection just as the very earth gives new life to the its inhabitants. Perhaps this is why the House elders in the days of yore picked this time for the season. Or perhaps, as some say, they were simply trying to garner the favour of the Outsiders whose lands and hearts they wished to capture. It is of no consequence. Your death and subsequent resurrection mark the very foundation of the towering domicile I have left behind. They give reason to the lives of all those within the House. They bring hope, they bring the good news, and they provide the basis on which the House has spread its message over continents and over oceans, growing its bounds though blood as much as through words.

Sitting, contemplating the significance of these events, with my undesirable friend on my shoulder, I was struck by how foolish, how petty, my ramblings were a little over forty days ago. While acknowledging the fact that the Season of the Fast was to prepare us to appreciate the greatest of all sacrifices, I still had the audacity to wonder whether or not certain sacrifices were worthy of your person. It is rather evident that none on this earth is. So much so that you, purest of the pure, had to take human form and die, in order to show us how it was done. You had to take it upon yourself to demonstrate to us that no sacrifice, however great could possibly match what really was necessary to save us from ourselves.

The sacrifice we celebrate marks why the House is often called the House of Love, especially in the face of other Houses. None other claims to have a Father that so loved his children he was willing to lay his life down on their behalf. None other claims to have a Father that boldly and unflinchingly went into suffering and pain and torture, just so that he could be with his children again. It is among the greatest calls to uniqueness, the greatest points of appeal, that the House has been able to lay claim to over the centuries. Deep inside, dear Father, your children simply want to be loved, and what better way to pull them to your bosom than by erecting a House whose very symbol is the ultimate gesture of expressible love?

But while I sat and mused on the wonders of the season’s end, filled with what can only be called nostalgic appreciation, my little friend, ever ready with cancerous utterances, had a word or two on this very subject. Now I would rather not mention the horrendous things he said; but I promised to write you about our experiences. Such a promise is not one that should be cast away so easily.

Per his name, my winged friend saw fit to cast his deep shadow over the very notion that the Brother-Saviour’s sacrifice, your sacrifice, is in fact the greatest of all sacrifices. If, as I have discovered, sacrifices must be measured by not just what they deprive us of but also by how much they achieve, it seems only fair that your sacrifice be brought under the microscope as well.

To that end, dearest Father, the question is thus: Exactly what were you deprived of in your sacrifice? In the weeks past I have abstained from food for the duration of the sun’s journey across the sky. I have endured my natural hungers, so that by suffering through them my mind may be driven towards you. This entire journey is predicated on discovering you more; what better way to ensure that you stay on my mind all the time than by tying it to something the body cannot do without?

Now when Doubt asked this question I was quick to provide an answer very much like the one I arrived at myself. Your sacrifice aside, the very act of coming to us and taking human form allowed you to experience life as we saw it, to identify with us. And Doubt, the ever wily and disgustingly brilliant little fellow, laughed and pointed out that per House dogma, you know everything. What more is there for you to know, dear Father? How could you, perfect being that you are, not know what being human feels like? You made us, down to the last hairs on our heads, or so they say. It is unfathomable to think that you do not know how we feel. The subject of suffering makes this an even bigger conundrum. What purpose did your suffering serve dear Father? Can one even say that you suffered, in the same way that your children suffer? And even if you did, why would it matter? For a being as knowledgeable as yourself, suffering would simply be experiencing something you have already “experienced”, something that you would not need to be reminded of as you can never forget. No. It seems your sacrifice then was for our benefit, perhaps to make us see you as we see ourselves… to humanise you, so to speak. We are the ignorant ones, not you. We are the ones that need to see the truth.

While this answer seemed to send Doubt flapping away in silent thought, the reprieve was not to last too long. He was back soon, with even more disturbing words. He pointed out that this fact, that the incarnation of yourself in flesh was simply to humanise yourself, had diluted the effect of what was to be considered an amazing sacrifice. You cannot suffer, in any way that makes sense; the feelings cannot be new to you, and you in your almighty glory, were already aware that you were to break the chains of death and rise again on the third day. In fact, this last bit reduces the sacrifice even more. There is, in effect, no sacrifice, for you died knowing full well that you would rise. There wasn’t, at the very least there shouldn’t have been, any fear or uncertainty in your heart. There was no finality. Listening to his words the sacrifice that defines the House suddenly seemed like a small thing, a simple formality. When one knows the outcome of an event, when one knows that it shall go in his favour, does one really lose anything by fulfilling all righteousness? Does one learn anything by going through the motions?

Of course I have heard such musings before, and it seems Family dogma on the full humanity and full divinity of the Brother-Saviour was crafted specially for such purposes. By being just as human as the rest of your children, he was subject to the fears and uncertainties that we feel every day. So even though he knew that he would rise, it did not make the experience any more enjoyable, or perfunctory. I can understand this. But my friend was not convinced, and I am afraid I must agree. Just as the Brother-Saviour is a man, he is also you. And you do not fear; you are not ignorant nor are you weak. It feels safe to assume that in a battle between Fatherly natures and childish natures the Fatherly would win, awesome and mighty as it is, especially when it exists in such great amounts as it did in the Brother-Saviour. So even as he approached the cross, bleeding from back and breast, he must have known all too well how everything would play out, and I cannot help but feel that that makes him no more than an actor on a very elaborate and realistic stage. And actors make no sacrifices, except to sell the act that they are making sacrifices.

Now there is the issue of the justice which must be served. We, your children, abandoned you Father, and made a rift so great that only the death of someone as awesome as yourself could heal it. To that end the sacrifice was absolutely necessary. Of course this raises other questions, such as the nature of justice itself, and punishments and sin, questions I hope to pose as I grow wiser on this journey. But it doesn’t answer the question of ultimate purpose. Per your omniscience, you already knew this was to be done; one can go as far as saying you already “did” it. You gained nothing doing it, and, perhaps more importantly, you lost nothing. You didn’t really die, and whatever part of you one can say perished that day was soon recovered … resurrected. Once again, it feels like everything was nothing more than a performance, more for our adulatory, love-seeking eyes than anything else.

In a final attempt to wipe the smirk off my friend’s face I half-heartedly muttered that perhaps this was one of the many things we could not understand, and he laughed a deep, cruel laugh, his eyes rolling in their dark sockets. Even he could see that I knew (as well as he) that such an answer, such a subdued acceptance of ignorance, would not be enough to quiet him. A quest for truth is among the reasons for my journey; what would be the point if whenever confronted with the tough questions I simply waved my hand, like the wizened and disinterested elders of the Family, and said “We cannot understand.”? The Numidian references such wonderful, unfathomable paradoxes in his Confessions, waxing poetic about how you are “most merciful, yet most just … stable, yet incomprehensible; unchangeable, yet all-changing; never new, never old…”, and for a case like this, I suppose he would say that you are “dying while still alive; suffering, yet unaffected; reduced yet whole”. But while such words filled me with awe and wonder once upon a time, on this day they do little to calm my faltering, perturbed heart.

It pains me to say it, Father, but my little friend does have a point. A sacrifice’s worth is measured by things lost and effects had. I lost some culinary satisfaction, and in return I can only imagine that I was brought closer to you in some manner; I certainly felt so. But your sacrifice, when put against yourself, feels hollow, staged. A being that has everything has absolutely nothing to lose. And looking upon this earth you have made, looking upon the children in your image, I cannot help but feel that nothing has changed. There were wars before your death on the cross; there are still wars today. We died of disease and hunger and pain before your death; we still die today. We murdered and pillaged and lied and stole and cheated and raped before your death; we still do so today, with more pomp and flair in fact. As I sit here and pen this letter to you dear Father, I cannot help but feel that whatever You-Know-Who was supposed to have lost that day must have been trivial, for he carries on like nothing happened. Whatever the effects your death was to have had that day, they must be ethereal, for we are not much different than we were before. We are just as sad, just as fallen, and this realisation fills me with a sorrow that eclipses whatever appreciation I may have felt as I contemplated the joys of spring many days before.

And so, confused and afraid, I ask you my dearest Father: what was the worth of this sacrifice, this greatest sacrifice of them all?

With a heavy heart,

Your Prodigal Son

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On Successes, Greeks, and A Man From Numidia

Dearest Father,

I am proud to inform you that the fast has been a success. If you remember I ended my last missive with uncertainty, informing you of my plans to stick with a food-fast while my irresolute mind struggled with picking a sacrifice befitting a being of your stature. I admitted that my lazy, albeit occasionally busy mind, would in all likelihood simply settle on this choice and not bother to change it, and alas I was correct. They say no one knows us better than ourselves, and this case was no exception. I will not bother you with excuses, Father. Suffice to say that in the weeks that have followed I have spent no more than a few minutes thinking about fast-worthiness, and my initial decision to abstain from food during the sun’s journey across the sky has stuck, just as I feared. To say that this has been a bad thing is, however, is to do it a great injustice, and I will show you why.

As you know, this is not the first time I am engaging in a fast. It is, however, my first since my departure. And while my fast last year was important because it was done largely for the same reasons as this one, this year’s fast has had a much better effect upon my depraved soul. Perhaps it is because I have finally left the House, thus providing myself with the very different perspective of the Outside. Perhaps it is because I now write you with some regularity, forcing myself to communicate with you in a manner that has brought me much closer to you than any prayer has since my childhood. Regardless of reason Father, these past weeks have convinced me that sacrifices are never to be judged simply by attachment, by the pain they cause, or by the pleasures they deny.  In these weeks, every time the short sharp pangs of hunger rose from my small belly, every time the compulsion to eat assailed me, I was reminded of you and you alone. It mattered not that I had felt hunger many times before; it mattered not that with enough endurance and distraction the pangs soon disappeared. All that mattered was that my mind was drawn to you. Each time I felt the need to eat, each time I looked upon a simple snack that lay begging to be devoured, the question arose (and thankfully not from my friend): Why am I doing this? And the answer always came: Because of You. Through the simple virtue of hunger I found myself contemplating you more times than I have in recent months. I was reminded of you in more places, drawn to you in newer ways. I was forced time and time again to face some of the issues that drove me from home in the first place, and to remember some of the things that made me smile while I was there. And while I cannot say whether the fruits of these thoughts will bring me closer or push me farther from you, I think I can safely say that it is good that I am having them. In a wonderful way they are preparing me for the celebration at the end of the season, the most significant in the House; they have provided me with a deeper awareness of you, and with that I hope comes a deeper understanding of everything you and your House stand for. In that manner Father, I believe my sacrifice to be worth every uneaten morsel, however small and insignificant.

In other news, my quest for Sophie continues and I have found myself on an agreeable path. As I mentioned previously, I have decided to begin my lessons with the ancients. Your Book certainly falls into this category, but I have opted not to focus on it at this time. Do not ask why, Father; I have no concrete reasons. Besides I find that my winged friend becomes most annoying whenever I think about things that revolve around you. You do not know how angry I was with him when I wrote my last letter. He seems to feed on my uncertainty, and since my immense battle over worthy sacrifices he has grown bigger and fatter. He now rests upon my shoulder on occasion, perhaps because his wings aren’t growing quite as fast as his body. I am cataloguing his characteristics and am starting to hazard a guess as to his true nature, but that is a discussion for another letter. Suffice to say, for now, that neither your Book nor he is the centre of my attention.

On my quest, I trust you will agree that I am in good hands. I am currently studying the works of two great initiates of Sophie, and one of them is Greek. You must know that if ever a people were credited with paving the path towards the love and discovery of Sophie in a manner most remarkable, it is the Greeks. The insight provided by their civilisation has shaped the way a vast majority of the world has viewed and has come to know the great Sophia. Even those that do not care much for the nuances of her precepts have undoubtedly been influenced by the works of these masters of wisdom, and the House is no exception. Its culture, its very structure, bears the indelible mark of Hellenic influence, as do almost all peoples that have been touched by your House. This always struck me as an odd development Father, as Family and House doctrine has unequivocally stated that all that is good and wise and true comes only from you, and that you deigned to bestow only upon the leaders and elders of the House these good and wise and true things. By all standards the Greeks were, in their time of greatness, in the service of You-Know-Who, and yet even the most ardent of House members employs many a tool devised in their schools. Perhaps the purists within the House have a point. Perhaps the House has been in fact been corrupted, but that is once again, Father, a topic for another letter.

Among the greatest of these peoples is a fellow I shall refer to as Platocrates. Nominally he is called Plato, but it appears to me that the person disseminating his doctrines and postulations is a man known as Socrates, identified by some of the students I have met on this path as his teacher. I cannot quite decipher whether he simply documented the words of his tutor or whether he wrote in this manner to lend authority to his work, but I have decided, for the time being, to consider them a single person. It matters not, really; I am interested more in what they have to say and less in who they are. They are both among the most revered in the Hellenic tradition, and a famous, long dead elder of the Family is said to have been influenced by Plato himself. (Of course, very few lovers of Sophie can claim to have escaped his influence.) On initial perusal it seems the work I have selected tackles the issue of justice, a fact that I find most delightful. You are said to be justice itself, dear Father; perhaps Platocrates would help me come to a deeper understanding of this facet of your being. File this under one of the many things I shall be writing you about, hopefully in the near future.

The other fellow I have my sights currently set upon is one that hews closer to the House and Family I have left behind. Praises have been sung about this man for as long as I can remember; he is among the foremost of the elders of the House, and both current and past elders have been so convinced of his greatness that he has been elevated to the level of saint, a shining example for all we lost and weak children to follow. There is no doubt in the minds of Family leaders that this man is Upstairs with you. He is the great Numidian, Augustine of Hippo, and I have stumbled upon his Confessions. I must say Father that I really like the manner in which he writes. It is filled with the requisite humility of a child that has not only returned home, but has matured considerably in your service. The praise he offers, the questions he asks, all these resonate with this lost child of yours. In many ways Augustine gives me hope Father. I suppose he can be considered among those that strayed from the beaten path and left the safe confines of the House (it must have been so much smaller back then), but found you and eventually returned, transforming into one of your most influential champions. I have only just started to read his work, so I cannot give you full impressions, but as I mentioned, I feel a deep connection. While I have my doubts concerning the state of the House and my place in it, a spark still ignites in me whenever I am made aware of some of the majesty and rich history contained in its walls, and cracking open Augustine’s Confessions filled me with such a feeling. I suppose I really haven’t walked too far from home. It is quite evident from these past few weeks that in many ways I am still your child; from my participation in the season to my appreciation of the Numidian’s words of exultation, it seems to me that there may yet be hope for this your prodigal son.

Between Platocrates and Augustine I have my work cut out for me, but I expect it would be fun. I am, after all, embarking on this journey of my own compulsion and volition. Unlike some I do not pursue Sophie out of some perceived duty; I do so because I want to.

And so armed with hungry thoughts and a reverent heart I will continue to march down this reassuring path. I know not where it would take me, and I implore you, dearest Father, keep a watchful eye on your wayward son.

With a jaunty step,

Your Prodigal Son

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