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On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts

James K.A. Smith

Brazos Press, 2019, £16.99. ISBN 978-1788121217

Review by Christopher Burkett, Director of Ministry in the Diocese of Chester, Editor

<strong>On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts</strong>

The life of faith as a journey is one of those all-pervasive metaphors that I often find irksome. How does it speak to those many occasions when I for one feel like I’m well and truly stranded? Or again, when what was gained previously now escapes me, and a destination previously achieved seems a dead-end? A sense of forward movement and progress to a goal evades me too often. Rather than ‘going somewhere’ life can too easily feel constricted, even directionless. I won’t labour the point further, save to say that a book that suggests itself as an extended application of the journey metaphor didn’t exactly sell it to me. How wrong I was!

In On The Road With Saint Augustine, James Smith admits that ‘the journey is one of the oldest tropes for the adventure of being human’ (page 38), but in his usage it becomes something startling and fresh. In this attractive produced (but never indulgent) volume well-sectionalised chapters separated by a little map motif and with map backgrounds at chapter beginnings, lead the reader through the yearnings of a contemporary believer in the company of Augustine. A small section of colour plates, as befits a travel guide, adds to its attractiveness. Smith asks us to think of Augustine’s life as a road trip – ‘a travelogue of the human heart. The reason Augustine tells his story is that he thinks it is simply an example of the human story—that we are all prodigals—and he wants us to ask ourselves a question: ‘what if I went home?’ (page 11). This is the journey every restless soul needs to be led on.

Fellow travellers included in this ‘diary’ include Heidegger, Aquinas and Camus, amongst other luminaries, and several characters from movies and popular culture. I learnt a lot about Augustine – along the way as it were – but more particularly I learnt a lot about my own ‘restless heart’ and how it can find rest in God.

For the preacher Smith is a great wordsmith. Spirituality not homiletics is his topic, but this preacher found here many expressions that will find their way into sermons: ‘Jesus is the shout of God’ (page 15); ‘Rituals are not solutions. They don’t ‘fix’ things. They are how we live with what we can’t fix’ (page 115); and particularly appropriate to this edition of The Preacher, ‘The Bible - especially the psalms – was Augustine’s gift of tongues’ (page 168). Many more such aphorisms make this a treasure trove for anyone who speaks of the spiritual life.

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