Conversatio Divina

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

James K. A. Smith

Interview Question

Gary W. MoonFirst of all, Jamie, thank you for writing a book it seems you were born to write, On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. As with your other books, you do such a great job of blending head, heart and hands. You remind me of Dallas Willard, even though he may not have pulled Jack Kerouac into the mix or created a Spotify play list.
Before we get down to the questions, I have to say, that prior to reading On the Road with Saint Augustine, I had not been a fan of the saint, and I had even questioned whether he should have his sainthood revoked.
In part, this is due to the fact I have become quite taken with the church of the first three centuries (pre-dating Augustine) and the eastern branch of the tree of Church history, where some have been known to raise an eyebrow when Augustine’s name is mentioned.
Within that perspective, as you know, there is most often respect for Augustine, but also deep suspicion about the patriarch who some credit with introducing the doctrine of “original sin” (total depravity and the inheritance of guilt) as a competitor for the already-in-place-at-the-time doctrine of “ancestral sin” (sufficient depravity and the inheritance of separation from God and death, but not the guilt of another).
Anyway, all of that was a prelude to offering a profound complement to you and your approach to this book. You have persuaded this fist-clenched skeptic to view Augustine with new and more loving eyes.
James K. A. SmithThank you! I think? One of my goals in the book was to deconstruct some common misperceptions of Augustine that have become hurdles to discovering Augustine’s wisdom as a pastor and spiritual psychologist, of sorts. So, I’m encouraged if my book might encourage you to suspend judgment for a little while.
GWMSpiritual psychologist; I love that. And getting me to suspend judgment is no small task. So good job.
Jamie, you state up front that this is not a biography about Augustine but a journey with Augustine and into oneself; a travelogue about a pilgrim who found “home” and joy. And you wager that this ancient African might make Christianity plausible for today’s culture. I think you won your wager.
In your first chapter, “Heart on the Run: How to hit the road,” you set the stage by pulling from modern sources such as Heidegger, Freud, and Jack Kerouac to underscore the human condition as unheimlich, our “not-at-home-ness.” And then you turn to Augustine’s life to describe how this type of longing for “home” can put us “on the road,” looking for the peace and joy of “home.”
How would you describe the cause and the cure for the universal condition of “homesickness?” How does one allow one’s heart to rest in God?
JKASOur homesickness, amplified in our culture in so many ways, is kind of a back-handed testament to the fact the human heart has a built-in longing for a home we’ve never been to.
The Jesuit theologian, Henri de Lubac, said that, as creatures, we have a natural desire for the supernatural. And when we try to satisfy that desire with the merely natural—when we try to make a home rather than find the home we’re made for—then we experience all kinds of anxiety and restlessness and disappointment. Even our made-up home feels like an exile. This, of course, was one of the great themes of Camus’ novels, which makes him a sort of Augustinian in negative.
So, to answer your question, in a sense the “cure” for this homesickness is to let oneself be found. It is to give up the striving to make up a home and following the pointers to the home the Creator of the cosmos has prepared. The rest—the Sabbath the human heart longs for—is not something that can be achieved; it can only be received.
Practically, for Augustine, that means availing ourselves of the disciplines and rituals of the Church as channels for receiving grace, rather than avenues of performing for God.
Finally, I think it’s really important that Augustine would say the Christian life is not an experience of homecoming (yet). We have many miles to go before we sleep, so to speak, and as long as we still pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we’re not there yet. However, what’s different in Christ is that we know where home is. We have an orientation. And in the body of Christ, we have companions. And in God’s revelation, we have a map.
GWMAs someone who, like Dallas Willard, has been influenced by phenomenology, would you say that, even here and now, there can be some experience of the present kingdom, even as we wait for a fuller, future expression?
JKASYes, definitely. The Incarnation changes everything. This is a sensibility that Augustine shares with someone like St. John of Damascus. God-becoming-human is the pivot point of human history. The kingdom of God has been among us, and the one who ascended has not left us orphans. So that foretaste of the kingdom remains now in the gift of the Spirit he has sent. But that same Spirit groans for the full unveiling of God’s desired shalom for the cosmos.
GWMYou make a reference to Augustine’s invitation to his parishioners to consider giving themselves over to the one who gave himself for them, the Christ who assures them, “My yoke is easy and my burden light.”
Dallas Willard writes a lot about the “easy yoke” of Jesus and to many (okay me), this often seems like a koan riddle that hasn’t quite done it’s work of breaking my rational mind. So, in a few words, what might Augustine say to someone who has tried to accept the invitation he describes, but has repeatedly found the process anything but easy?
JKASWell, quite honestly, Augustine would say wanting the easy yoke is the beginning of receiving it. One of my favorite lines comes from one of his letters: “The desire for grace is the beginning of grace.”
But I appreciate the question because it’s definitely a difficulty I experience myself. I think the issue is the verb: trying to accept. For those of us who are strivers, performers, achievers, this offer is almost an affront. And I don’t think any answer from a philosopher will clear it up! But I suppose, if we try to imagine what it feels like to receive Jesus’ easy yoke, it might almost feel like letting go—letting go of the notion that this is something I can control or manage or enact. For those of us driven by the rhythms of meritocracy, it might almost—almost—feel like giving up. But that’s only our performative divineness whispering in our ear, telling us we don’t deserve a gift, that grace can’t really be true, that every good thing has to be earned. But, of course, the Gospel is the very antithesis of that: grace is precisely what I can’t earn, and yet also the only thing I need to be fully human.
So maybe some of us need to risk feeling almost spiritually lazy in order to learn what it feels like to be held, sustained, embraced, lifted up by Jesus’ yoke. Does that make any sense?
GWMIt does, Jamie, and I would wonder if this willingness to be held, sustained and embraced, this surrender, I would say, of our egoic operating system to the Trinity, is what gives some experience of the Kingdom come (at least in part) and an easy yoke. That is also to say, the yoke becomes easier as we stop our egoic operating system from pulling against the unitive operating system of the Trinity. To use old language, the yoke is not easy in the purgative stages of transformation, but becomes easier as the unitive stage is beginning to be experienced.
JKASThat’s well said. And what Augustine would emphasize is that even that “willingness to be held,” the surrender, is itself a gift. Grace goes all the way down.
GWMThank you.
In your chapter, “Augustine Our Contemporary: How to find yourself,” you make the point that we are all philosophical heirs to Augustine even if we don’t realize it. And then you drive this home by using a fun illustration from Sarah Bakewell’s The Existentialist Café and feature a fictitious conversation among Jean-Paul Satre, Simone de Beauvior, Albert Camus and Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Gabriel Marcel, and others. Through smoke rings they are discussing many ideas at the heart of existentialism—several of which become your chapter titles. Thank you.
At the end of the story, it is noted that Augustine has been a quiet observer at the café, listening from a distance. And then you reimagine the scene and have him pick up the check on his way out. I think I know what you were communicating with that image, but I want to make sure I know what you had in mind.
JKASBakewell’s book is absolutely marvelous and, in many ways, was the catalyst that led me to conceive what became On the Road with Saint Augustine. She does a marvelous job of showing how the philosophical ideas of existentialism trickled down into the cultural water we all drink. But given the influence of Augustine on these influential thinkers like Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus and others, I wanted to try to show that, in fact, our cultural ethos is more indebted to an ancient Christian saint than many—especially many “secular elites,” as they say—would realize.
GWMCool, I got that one.
As a follow-up you mention that you believe you had Augustine wrongly shelved in the philosophical canon of your imagination. And you moved him from the “medieval A’s” (alongside Aquinas and Anselm) to the “dog-eared, coffee-stained copies of Pascal, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Camus. I know there is a sense that your entire book answers this question, but, if you don’t mind, can you say more about what caused this change in your filing system? Is there hope here for those who still raise an eyebrow when his name is mentioned?
JKASWhat I meant was that to read Augustine as a late medieval scholastic is a fundamental mis-categorization, and a terrible way to approach Augustine. Not that there’s anything wrong with late medieval scholasticism! I teach Anselm and Aquinas all the time. But by the 1100–1200s, a lot of theological treatises are exercises in a certain kind of “classification”; they feel more like a spreadsheet than a pilgrimage, if you know what I mean. In addition, by that late medieval period, there had been a certain Christian consensus building in the West that sort of changed the intellectual questions being asked.
Augustine, as someone living in the late Roman Empire (the late 300s and early 400s), inhabitants a world where paganism is still alive and well. And so, he’s also very attuned to what, today, we might call “seekers.” Which means that, even in his preaching, Augustine is often appealing to questions that non-Christians are bringing to their consideration of the Christian faith.
The result is a kind of existential energy in Augustine’s work—in the Confessions, especially, but it’s also something you can feel in his sermons. (We need to remember that Augustine was a pastor and bishop above all.)
This is also why I’m trying to invite people to see Augustine beyond the different portrayals he gets in dogmatic theology. When people read him as if he was a scholastic, it’s often because they’ve selectively lifted out some part of his (massive!) corpus—say, his debate with the Pelagians—as if that was representative. That’s unfortunate. I’d say the best way to get a feel for the existential nature of Augustine’s Christianity is to read the Confessions, and then to get a feel for the intimacy of his spiritual counsel, read his sermons. (The folks at New City Press have created a wonderful compendium of Essential Sermons which is a great place to start.)
GWMThank you, Jamie, that is very helpful.
Concerning the “existential energy of Augustine,” as alluded to above, you do a wonderful job weaving in the voices of Camus, Heidegger, and other early voices of existentialism. At one point you state that Heidegger suggests that “the wake-up call of anxiety might be how we learn to hear ‘the Appeal’ that comes from beyond us, a transcendence calling us to something, calling us to ourselves.” And, you say, “We are not just pilgrims on a sacred march to a religious site; we are migrants, strangers, resident aliens in route to a patria, a homeland we’ve never been to. God is the country we’re looking for.”
Of course, the “resident aliens” in search of a “homeland,” reminds me of Dallas Willard’s repeated theme of eternal living (aka, life in the Kingdom of God here and now). Would you say a bit more about the possibility of living life in the Kingdom here and now, as a “homesick” cure? I know you know a few things about desiring the Kingdom. So, is this what Augustine did to find home; to trust his deepest desires to step back inside the Kingdom?
JKASBy the way, let me say again that I don’t think it’s an accident that both Willard and I were trained as phenomenologists. We share a philosophical heritage that might also partly explain the resonance between our visions for spiritual formation.
I think, this is a theme in Augustine that is underappreciated. Let’s call it his “practical eschatology”—the sense that, on the one hand, the Kingdom has dawned and now, in this time between the cross and kingdom-come, we live in the shadow (or light!) of both the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus behind us and the coming Kingdom in front of us. The Resurrection of Jesus changes everything. We literally live in a different world because of it, and one of the most important implications of that is the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. That indwelling of the Spirit is what makes possible a regeneration that is not of our doing.
However—and this is equally important—Augustine would caution against what we would call “over-realized” eschatologies. We “ought not live ahead of time,” Augustine counsels. That is, we shouldn’t forget that we are also still awaiting the Kingdom in an important sense. And so, we live with hope in the meantime, but without illusion.
GWMThank you, Jamie for the added clarity. And, I agree that it’s like the candy I ate as a child called, “Now and Later.”
By way of follow-up on the notion of the extent to which the experience of life “with God” is possible, a lot of readers have a deep interest in spiritual formation and spiritual direction. So, when you talk about hearing an appeal to a transcendence calling us to something—calling us to ourselves—this has a ring of what one might hear in a lecture on contemplative or centering prayer: listening to a call to transcendence that seems to be coming from deep within the person. Does this comparison seem fair to you?
JKASAbsolutely! Indeed, I would say this all just floats as philosophical abstraction unless it is concretized in disciplines and practices that are the channels for living out this reality. This is where Augustine’s sacramental vision is so important: the way to the heart is through the body, so to speak. This is why the transforming grace of God finds us through conduits of bread and wine, but also postures of prayer and confession.
GWMThank you.
In your chapter on freedom, you write that It is a terrible and terrifying thing to know what you want to be and then realize you’re the only one standing in the way—to want with every fiber of your soul to be someone different, to escape the “you,” you’ve made of yourself, only to fall back into the self you hate, over and over again.
This seems so powerful and so personal. Picking either Augustine’s life or your own, would you share the best advice you know for helping a person get out of his or her own way on the journey “home.”
JKASI wish there was a formula. Of course, there’s not. There’s just a lot of heartbreak and hard lessons. Too often we are broken open only when we are broken down by our own hubris and illusions.
There’s a Brandi Carlisle song I love called "The Eye" that I think of in this connection. Think of it as the testimony watching someone who won’t get out of their own way. It can feel terribly powerless, and Carlisle’s lyrics capture this (give it a listen if you can).
Her idea about dancing in a hurricane can only happen in the eye gives a clue of how to get out of the way. But too often, it’s the second pass of the hurricane that’s required for us to get out of our own way.
Or, Gary, you might appreciate a song that hits a little closer to home: Miranda Lambert’s "What About Georgia?" It’s another song I think of in relation to this question. Listen to the opening verse and chorus.
GWMI do appreciate that you are sensitive to Georgia always being on my mind; and that you stayed away from the country song about Augustine and predestination, “Drop kick me, Jesus (through the goal posts of life).”
But I’m also a bit disturbed about how much free time you seem to have for listening to music.
JKASHa! Music is the sonic wallpaper of my study. But I also think the poetry of music helps us get at feelings and even questions that are hard to put into words.
So, these songs, to return to your question, help me appreciate what it feels like to watch someone who keeps getting in their own way, so to speak. What can we do while we’re watching someone running away from themselves? What can we do when a loved one keeps getting in their own way? Here’s where Augustine’s favorite parable becomes relevant: We can always embody the father of the prodigal son. We can be the person whose persistent presence is the very embodiment of God’s promise that you can always come home. We bear witness to what God wants for our loved one, and then we stand in as the very face of welcome, even when they keep running away. We can’t make them come home; we can only be the people who promise to be present when they turn homeward.
GWMYes. Perhaps it could be said that trusting one’s deepest desires, turning toward God for help, and waiting in willingness and surrender are the first steps toward home.
On to a different theme, or perhaps it’s the same theme, but while facing in a different direction. In your chapter, “Ambition: How to aspire,” you discuss ambition in terms of idolatry and suggest that our idolatries are not intellectual, but affective—instances of disordered devotions. This statement makes me think of St. Ignatius of Loyola and his emphasis on identifying and finding freedom from our disordered attachments. And, it brings to mind the Enneagram and “signature sins,” the pursuit of false remedies for our basic fears.
You go on to remind the reader that Augustine never stopped being ambitious, but what changed was the telos of his ambition. That was the problem and how we can distinguish good from bad ambition.
What diagnostic questions might you use with a student (or in a spiritual friendship) to help that person know whether they are experiencing good or bad ambition?
JKASGreat question.
GWMI love it when you say that.
JKASLet me take a shot at answering it.
It might seem odd to say it, but I think my counsel would begin by encouraging everyone to realize that they’ll always experience both. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not condoning “bad” ambition. I just think there is something liberating about giving up the illusion that my ambition will ever be pure (in this life!). So, if you ask yourself the question, “Am I doing this for God or am I doing this for myself?” the answer is always: “Yes!”
Once you name that, then you’re in a place to get to the next level of “diagnosis,” as you put it. And I think there are two aspects of this. First, am I willing to confess this regularly to God? Can I keep owning that? Confession is its own gift and to neglect it is also to neglect a means of grace.
Second, I think then start to regularly ask yourself: Could I not do this and still know—still feel—that I am loved by God? Could I still be happy, content, at peace? It’s interesting, I think, that for some of us the pandemic has been a bit of an exercise in this regard. There are lots of things we get accolades for that we simply haven’t been able to do. For example, I haven’t spoken to an audience in months. If I was speaking in order to feel the rush of attention, because I really just need the fuel that comes from being the focus of attention, then not being in front of crowds is going to kill me. Can I rest in God’s love and still be happy not doing this? Ironically, getting to that point is precisely what liberates us to renew our ambition.
GWMThis is very helpful. And, speaking of the pandemic, I’ve actually experienced a surprising amount of guilt the past many months for enjoying the solitude and chance to experience the life of a married monk.
But speaking of guilt, it is difficult to talk about Augustine without getting into his sex life. I’m surprised I’ve waited this long.
JKASAs long as we talk about Augustine’s and not mine! ;-)
GWMHmmm, so much for my next three questions.
So, I’ll jump ahead to Augustine’s sex life. You observe that because Augustine may have felt least in control in the face of his sexual urges, and because of his “cold-turkey recovery,” he endorses an all-or-nothing (married or monk) approach to sex. If you were Augustine’s sex therapist for a day, what advice would you have given him? And how might that advice have rippled through church history—at least up to the time of the Reformation?
JKASYeah, I would graciously challenge Augustine for, in this instance, lacking the sort of intellectual and theological sophistication he exhibited in so many other areas.
But if I was really in therapist mode with him, I think I’d gently try to get him to work through some deep-seated guilt he seemed to be carrying—a bit like the sort of shame that hangs over people who’ve been raised in “purity” cultures, if you know what I mean. I’d want to ensure him that not even his libido—not even his genitals, if you’ll forgive the crassness—fall outside the purview of God’s grace and good will, and thus help him imagine a Christ-shaped life that includes the beautiful fidelity and intimacy of a couple lived over years and years, intertwined as one flesh. In that respect, I guess I’d just be reminding him of that part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he might have missed!
GWMWhile I can forgive you for the crassness, I’m not sure my grandmother would have been able to. I couldn’t even say “Gentiles” around her for fear it might be mis-heard. So, in deference to her, I’ll force myself to move on to other questions.
If authenticity is an emergence from the standards of the “they” and “them,” a refusal to conformity to the chorus of other voices, how is striving to be authentic unlike simply being different, or a non-conformist?
JKASThis is a good question. This is precisely where Augustine departs from existentialists like Heidegger. For existentialism, in a sense, authenticity is simply synonymous with non-conformity. Or, to put it otherwise, for the existentialists, the antidote to inauthenticity is intentionality, choosing a way of life rather than simply blindly going along with the crowd.
But for Augustine, it’s not just that you resist the default of the crowd, not just that you make a choice; you also need to choose well, choose rightly, and more specifically choose to love the right things in the right way, to order your love to the God for whom you were made and for which your heart is made to long. And in fact, there’s one more layer of complication which is that the ability to make that choice is not simply within your power. This is the real upshot of the famous conversion narrative in Book 8 of the Confessions. Even this choice is graced, a gift.
GWMThank you, Jamie.
You are someone who has spent most of his adult life in academic settings. I noticed that you offer some haunting reflections on how the liberal arts, in Augustine’s experience, had become weaponized for advancement instead of being a curriculum for cultivating the soul. Sixteen hundred years later, it still seems laughable that a university education might be about learning and living our wisdom. It really struck me that one of Augustine’s questions for himself was, “Am I learning in order to grow, or learning in order to know who and how to love?” You be education-czar for the planet! What ideas would you suggest for developing a curriculum that cultivates love and soul health?
JKASOh boy, I’m not sure anyone would want me to be an education-czar; I’m a notoriously hard grader! But if I was put in charge of a global curriculum, I would suggest that education isn’t just about informing our intellects, or performing in order to achieve. It is ultimately about forming our love and shaping our character so we become more practiced at being human. That’s going to mean an intentional mix of academic and co-curricular rhythms and routines. That’s why Jean Leclercq pointed to monastic communities as a paradigm for education in his important book, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God.
GWMI do think your ability to add heart and body to “heady” academic discussions would make you a great educational Czar.
Moving on, you suggest that one of Augustine’s earlier books, Of True Religion, paints Christianity as the completion of Platonism. But it also seems fair to suggest that he sees a fundamental distinction between Platonism and Christianity. What would you say is at the heart of this distinction and why is this important?
JKASI should say, by the way, that I don’t think a Platonist is the worst thing one could be. There’s a school of thought in Protestantism that hears “Platonism” and starts shouting about “dualism,” and that’s the end of the conversation. That’s not me. If you’re mired in some form of naturalism—whether ancient Epicureanism or contemporary versions of it—then Platonism, which points to a world beyond our senses, will feel like a kind of gateway drug to Christian concerns. That’s certainly how Augustine experienced it.
But Augustine cautioned that the two are not synonymous. And what really distinguishes them, Augustine would say, is that Christianity values humility. On the one hand, we see this in the Incarnation itself—that God is willing to condescend to meet humanity on our level, to become flesh. That is unthinkable in Platonism. But also, that salvation is not something that we can achieve, but a gift we must accept. That requires humility on our part.
GWMThank you, Jamie. Truly I’ve felt a bit of shame over my appreciation for Plato. I distinctly remember the first time I encountered Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I felt in the moment that I’m not sure my way of seeing Jesus’ mission and the world as visible and invisible real, had been helped by any other one experience.
Okay, in your chapter “Justice: How to protest” you contrast an atheism of the head such as that of the new atheists, with an atheism of the heart, that is an atheism forged in suffering. I’m assuming that you would view much of the present-day cry for racial justice to be born more from the heart. If you could stretch the cord of a microphone back about 1600 years and put it in front of Augustine, what advice do you think he would have for protesters in the US today? How do you protest for justice in the political climate of today?
JKASIn many ways, the problem of evil was a lifelong concern for Augustine. Originally, it was one of the hurdles that prevented him from believing Christianity. But even as a Christian, he was attentive to evil as an irruption in the cosmos, an incursion into the good order of creation. In that sense, evil is, at bottom, not the way it’s supposed to be. So even naming something as evil is already a protest and lament. And to battle injustice is to work against evil, to try to roll back the curse. However, Augustine would also caution about hubris in this regard. Too often protest is allied with an over-confidence in our own abilities to bring an end to evil—and our own “purity” in being able to identify what is evil. Augustine would caution that, while we legitimately protest the evil and injustice around us, we should also remain alert to the evil that keeps infecting our own hearts.
GWMJamie, I know we are running short on time and space, here, but if you’ll permit one follow-up question. Concerning the balance of legitimately protesting evil and injustice while remaining humble and alert to our own “infections,” would you offer one or two sentences for self-examination (or practice) that might help a person maintain this balance?
JKASWell, one easy self-diagnostic test: Will I be happy if the goals are achieved but someone else gets the credit? Am I doing this to see justice achieved, or to be seen as someone fighting for justice?
Last few topics now. Concerning fathers, you cite that Augustine was his best as a father when he was being an icon that his son could see through, rather than an idol to be worshipped. Jamie, you were very disclosing in the book concerning father relationships in your life. Would you share a couple of “icon” moments in your own fathering, moments inspired by places where you may have felt broken?
JKASI think the most “iconic” moments in my life as a father—instances where I hope my children saw something of God through me—were when I was willing to say, “I’m sorry.” Every time I had to own up to my own failures and say sorry, it was a very tangible reminder that I am not God (not that my kids thought I was), but also, I hope, an embodiment of the sort of humility that God shows to us.
There’s a passage at the beginning of the epistle to the Hebrews that I’ve always loved: it says that in the past, God spoke through the prophets and other various ways, but that “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:2). The Greek is actually more suggestive here: it says simply that in these last days, God speaks “in Son,” like the Son is the language he speaks to humans. Just as I’m speaking to you “in English,” the Creator of the universe bends down to us as little children and speaks a language we can understand: his Son.
The other iconic moments, I guess, would be those instances where I simply refused to give up on them, refused to leave, even when I might have been the last person they wanted to see, whenever all of their actions felt like a rejection of me. To absorb that, remain steadfast, say “I love you,” and let them know I’ll always be here is my human version of trying to keep the covenant as God does.
GWMThank you for that honesty. I would like to camp out here for a while but I’ll make myself move on.
In your final section, “Homecoming,” your hope for the reader becomes transparent. You state: “You reach a point on the road with Augustine where mere tourism comes to an end. You’re faced with a choice. Do you want to step in there? The next stop isn’t arrival. It’s not the end of the road. To make that step won’t solve all your problems or quell every anxiety. But it is the first step of giving yourself over to One who gave his life for you.”
What have you heard from a reader who became inspired to move beyond tourism?
JKASI’ve been so humbled by the letters and notes I’ve received in response to On the Road with Saint Augustine. It might not be the bestseller I was hoping for (God is teaching me humility!), but it has been so rewarding to hear from some readers for whom the book, and really Augustine, became a catalyst to get their bearings and reorient—sometimes to make a 180-degree turn! I keep one of the cards close to my desk. It’s a note from an older man facing ultimate realities in a way that I can still only imagine. I was so heartened when he said, “I needed this ‘road trip’ in this late season of my life on old earth.” In some ways, when I was writing the book, I imagined twenty-somethings struggles with their lives and questions of faith, so it was humbling to hear from someone at “the end of the road,” so to speak, who was grateful to find a companion in Augustine.
GWMYour book and this conversation are a gift. I hope it finds a wide readership.
JKASThanks for such thoughtful questions and a fun conversation!


James K.A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin University where he holds the Gary & Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology. He also serves as the editor in chief of ImageImage, a quarterly journal at the intersection of art, faith, and mystery. He is the award-winning author of a number of books including Desiring the Kingdom, You Are What You Love, and On the Road with Saint Augustine.

Gary W. Moon served as the founding executive director of the Martin Institute for Christianity and Culture and the Dallas Willard Center for Christian Spiritual Formation at Westmont College, and continues to direct their resource development initiatives through serving as the director of Conversatio Divina: A Center for Spiritual Formation. Moon writes in areas such as the theoretical and practical integration of psychology, theology, and spiritual formation. He recently completed a biography of Dallas Willard, Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower, which won the Christian Book Award® in Biography and Memoir.