The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2019
On the Road with Saint Augustine:
A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts
James K.A. Smith
Hardback: Brazos Press, 2019
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Augustine “shares a story that he invites his readers to ‘try on’ and see if it might perhaps fit their own experience” (160). His life story “is only of interest if it is unoriginal, a story that’s been told a million times, one that rehearses the prodigal adventures of the human condition.” Traveling home means accepting, and eventually enjoying, the truth that we are not the main character in our own story.
“The notion of a governing narrative that is not your own feels like signing over the rights to your life—which it is!” Smith writes (168). “But for Augustine, being enfolded in God’s story in Scripture was not an imposition but a liberation.”
To toil, and even trip, along the way doesn’t mean we’ve taken the wrong road, only that the road is fraught and full of moments when we need to reach out for Jesus. It means brokering an uneasy peace between the already and the not yet realized.
“Conversion doesn’t pluck you off the road; it changes how you travel,” Smith writes (15). “One of the reasons I’ve found Augustine a comforting companion on the way is that he is honest about how hard the road is even once you know where home is.”
Or, as the poet Mary Oliver so sweetly and sagely put it, “Things take the time they take. Don’t worry. How many roads did St. Augustine follow before he became St. Augustine?”
To hear Smith tell it, the way home is as much like the Emmaus Road as it is “Thunder Road.” Augustine walks and talks alongside us, lest we forget where Jesus is. Just as he explicated the Scriptures for his confused companions in Luke 24, the Messiah walks beside us, showing us that even the road itself is all about him. It begins with him, ends with him, and finds its meaning in him.
- from our review by Aarik Danielsen
coming soon, in our Advent 2019 magazine issue
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