I often tell my students I hated Augustine the first time I read him. But the more precise truth is he made me nervous. I was an undergraduate student of philosophy, taking a philosophy seminar on the Confessions, and Augustine did things I suspected philosophers weren’t supposed to do. Since I was studying at a Christian university, I wasn’t bothered by his talk about God and prayers—though the latter were long, making me doubt Augustine’s status as a “master rhetorician.” What tripped me up was the title: Confessions. To me, then an evangelical Protestant, confession connoted low whispers through a screen and an unhealthy preoccupation with sin. Plus confession seemed too personal a genre to reveal the eternal truths that I, a would-be philosopher, thought I was supposed to be seeking.  Once I made it past the title page, there was even more to worry my philosophical spirit. Having heard rumors of a quarrel between philosophy and poetry, I was wary of Augustine’s brazen use of metaphor and other figurative language.

All this “hatred” and “nervousness” concealed, as it often does in late adolescence, a growing love. I wanted Augustine to be right. Part of me was already pretty sure he was. My philosophical perplexities were already entangled with my life’s story. My own writing was already blurring the artificial boundaries between philosophy and poetry, philosophy and theology. I wanted to think and write and teach like he did, to the best of my capacities. And, over the course of that seminar, he began to show me how.

We can do philosophy and theology in many ways: offering readings of texts, doing scriptural exegesis, explicating texts from major figures in the field, clarifying propositions, etc. Augustine was pivotal for me by showing that philosophy and theology can be done in a personal, even confessional, way. Augustine showed me how the story of a human life—his own story—could reveal God. To plumb mysteries of theology and philosophy like sin, grace, redemption, time, Augustine recounted his own experiences of learning to speak, stealing pears, singing psalms, falling in love, and more. To tell the Christian story of creation, fall, conversion, and fulfillment, Augustine offered his own confessions of restless love. I learned from him that philosophy begins in story. I now think it finds its proper end there too.

Augustine also showed me how to write out of the belief that God’s creatures are signs of God’s beauty and love. Augustine’s palette as a writer was broad and bold and—most of all—incarnational. My professor nudged me in a similar direction after reading a paper in which I gushed at length about some beautiful metaphor in the Confessions. “Erika, you have to stop talking about figurative discourse so damn much and start writing in figures.” So I did, with Augustine as my guide.

Thus it was that I began to build up my own philosophical palette, colored by my own story, by creation’s story, by the human story, and by Augustine’s story. I continue to work from that palette—richer than I had dared to hope—in my writing and teaching.