Jamie Smith (aka James K.A. Smith), is a charismatic, reformed Christian (yes, they exist!), and a philosopher at Calvin College by trade. He’s really insightful and a great communicator to boot. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a college outside of Pittsburgh a number of years ago and his conversational tone really gave the listener a sense of invitation into an actual…dare I say…conversation (note how deftly he deals with some of the questions at the end of the talk).
Anyway, today I happened upon a this clip (below) of a talk he gave to the University of Michigan. In it he essentially summarizes a book, You Are What You Love, that was tremendously influential in giving me the courage to embrace a liturgical expression of worship.
His essential argument is that there is a gap between what we cognitively say we believe and what we actually believe. The culture is, via “rituals, rhythms, and routines”, subtly shifting our affections and core beliefs about reality. And these cultural practices are embedded with a message about what “the good life” is and how we achieve it. I’m paraphrasing him now: No one becomes a consumerist by assenting to some argument that acquiring goods actually makes you happier. We know this is absurd. But at a core level we’ve believed this because we’ve been formed by these practices. (The bread and butter of the talk starts at 20:09 but its really worth watching the whole thing if you have the time).
And so the spiritual parallel goes, our core beliefs about God are not really formed by assenting to cognitive arguments, but by giving ourselves over to liturgies that train our affections rightly.
Now, it would be absurd to assert that only one spiritual tradition possesses the liturgies to rightly form the soul. The thing to consider very carefully, however, is what message the liturgy of any tradition is sending.