Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Alter in the World

I recently finished reading "An Alter In The World" by Barbara Brown Taylor. Taylor serves as a seminary professor or world religions in north Georgia after having been a long tenured priest in the Episcopalian tradition.

First things first, Barbara Brown is perhaps the best writer I've ever read. An author of a dozen books, the way in which she weaves her words together seems almost majestic. As my eyes effortlessly floated across page after page I hardly knew I was reading.

The aim of this book is finding the sacred in everyday life. Taylor's approach is not just another droning call to readers to try harder to believe that God is present everywhere. No, by reading her words, one becomes convicted that God can be noticed by feeling our bare feet on rich damp soil and by taking a moment to notice the smell of a breeze. One can pray simply by hanging clothes out to dry on an old fashion farm line or by feeling excruciating pain.

This book shows that God is much more than we typically make God out to be on Sunday mornings in stuffy santuaries. Taylor puts it this way,

No matter how hard I try to say something true about God, the reality of God
will exlipse my best words. The only reality I can describe with any accuracy is
my own limited expereince of what I think may be God: the More, the Really Real, the Luminous Web That Holds Everything in Place.


The methodology of the book is an honest discussion of about a dozen spiritual practices. Unlike the typical spiritual disciplines classically covered by spiritual self-help books, Taylor throws readers a curve ball by engaging the practices of Paying Attention, Wearing Skin, Getting Lost, Carrying Water, and even the practice of Feeling Pain.

Before reading this book, I honestly had little expectation having already relegated it to the category of hippy-tree-hugger. But no, somehow the author has offered me a sense of reverence for the earth, my every step and even the twigs that crack under my feet. Without hugging trees, she's presented this vision in about 200 pages of attractive prose that tug on the strings inside each of us, the ones that make us more fully human.

Person of faith or not, this book is worth a gander. I give it the Nathan-two-thumbs-up. It feels like a celebration of life and a reminder of love for our world and ourselves. This book will make you more human. Taylor has given me a gift by helping me better see God in places I formerly did not, by uncovering the sacred amidst the normal, by really revealing an alter in the world.

2 comments:

Vicki Hesse said...

Nate, give *yourself* a two-thumbs-up. nicely written, humanly lived. Shalom!

Mallory said...

Nate, I am a huuugggeee fan of BBT. Her writing is the kind that feeds my searching soul. "An Altar in the World" is a favorite of mine. My favorite image in the book is of the women acting out the Beatitudes in the wearing skin chapter. Glad you enjoyed it, and I pray that we would all learn to direct our everyday lives toward God.