- You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith, and: The Phenomenology of Love and Reading by Cassandra Falke
Toward the end of Shakespeare's play Henry IV, Part 2, Prince Hal ("Harry'') sits by the bed of his ailing father, King Henry, whose crown lies beside him on the pillow. Seeing an unmoving feather upon his father's lips, Prince Hal assumes that his father has died. After briefly grieving, Prince Hal takes the crown, places it on his own head, and leaves the room. When the king stirs and calls noblemen to his room, he asks about his son: "Is he so hasty that he doth suppose/My sleep my death?'' (4.5.60–61). Ashamedly reentering the room, Prince Hal says, "I never thought to hear you speak again'' (4.5.91), and King Henry responds, "Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought'' (4.5.92).
The relationship between wishing and thinking takes center stage in James K. A. Smith's You Are What You Love, a popularized version of his book Desiring the Kingdom (2009), which was the first installment of his recently completed Cultural Liturgies trilogy. This more accessible version of Smith's work is no less insightful, and while there are many perspectives from which to view this book, we want to focus on how Smith uses literature to communicate his main claims. Ultimately, Smith seems to be engaged in a project of teaching people to read. But this reading is not necessarily the reading of literary texts. Smith desires to awaken Christians to recognize that they are constantly encountering soul-shaping liturgies, including shopping malls and stadiums, which function as secular temples in the sense that they often induce us to form allegiances to kingdoms that rival the Kingdom of God (37, 40–45). Defining liturgy as "rituals that are loaded with an ultimate Story about who we are and what we're for'' (46), Smith insists that we learn to read these liturgies to become more aware of their potential for de-formation, and that we develop counter liturgies that shape our desires and help us practice various virtues.
As readers of cultural liturgies, we begin by acknowledging that reading is not simply an intellectual enterprise. Drawing upon Augustine and David Foster Wallace, Smith argues that we are lovers and worshipers as well as thinkers, and that virtues are acquired affectively (18). In other words, affection drives cognition. Of course, this observation is not groundbreaking. The literary record has long acknowledged that reason alone is incapable of fully accounting for human experience. For example, in his Paradiso, Dante describes reason as having short wings (2.57), and in Part 4 of Swift's satirical Gulliver's Travels, the pride of the intellectually superior Houyhnhnm (talking horses who have Stoically eliminated all passion and love) reveals that brainpower is insufficient to make one virtuous. But even if Smith's observation is not new, the fact that generations of people are continually surprised to discover just how much they are being shaped in non-intellective ways reveals the need to continue to repeat this important observation. [End Page 351]
In addition to heightening our awareness of the necessity of reading cultural liturgies, Smith uses the general structure of literary narrative to discuss Christian worship and discipleship. In a chapter titled "What Story Are You In? The Narrative Arc of Formative Christian Worship,'' Smith writes that "one of the goals of Christian worship is to 'characterize' us, in a twofold sense'': to make us aware of our status as characters in "the unfolding drama of the God who acts,'' and to make us receptive to a Spirit-inscribed "character that makes us a certain kind of person'' (88–89). Like fiction, Smith says, worship "traffic[s] in story and target[s] the imagination...