Liturgies are covert incubators of the imagination, because they play the strings of our aesthetic hearts. Liturgies traffic in the dynamics of metaphor and narrative and drama; they are performed pictures of the good life that capture our imagination and thus orient our love and longing. By an aesthetic alchemy, liturgies implant in us a vision for a world and way of life that attracts us so that, on some unconscious level, we say to ourselves: “I want to go there.” And we act accordingly.
To perceive the world is always to perceive it as a certain kind of space: as mere “nature” or God’s creation; as the ﬂattened, disenchanted space for human self-assertion or the enchanted, sacramental realm of God’s good gifts; as a competitive arena for my plunder and self-fulﬁllment or a shared space of neighbors who beckon to me for care and compassion; as a random assemblage for which we now claim “progress” or the stage on which is played the drama of God’s gracious redemption.
James K. A. Smith teaches philosophy at Calvin College. He is the author of Speech and Theology: Language and the Logic of Incarnation (Routledge) and Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology (Baker Academic).