Is Life Unsatisfying? Augustine Says, ‘You Are Not Alone.’

James K. A. Smith accompanies the church father on a journey through the human heart.

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is an American classic. It is easily (and often) parodied for its freewheeling style, but it is also full of magical sentences and encapsulations of life in postwar America. At its heart, the book is about longing: for transcendence, for love, for experience, for a sense of place and belonging. And, more deeply, for a sense of self.

In one revelatory scene, Kerouac writes, “I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was—I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”

That sense of hauntedness permeates Kerouac’s writing. For most of his life, he was a wanderer. A sometimes-Catholic, sometimes-Buddhist. A chronic alcoholic. A restless soul crisscrossing America in search of a sense of self. And that hauntedness makes him a kindred spirit with Augustine of Hippo, the early Christian theologian who penned that time-honored phrase, “Our heart is restless until it finds rest in thee.”

This affirmation is at the heart of James K.A. Smith’s new book, On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. “In a way,” Smith writes, “it’s a book Augustine has written about you. It’s a journey with …

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