Thursday, March 8, 2018

An Altar in the World - Barbara Brown Taylor

An Altar in the World
Title: An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
Author: Barbara Brown Taylor
Publication Date: 2/10/2009
Pages: 216
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember.
Date Completed: 2/24/2018

Summary: Taylor looks at some of our most quotidian acts and how they can be spiritual experiences which point us to God. 

What I Thought: When I first started this book, I was skeptical. Taylor's idea of seeking the spiritual in the mundane felt...too simple? too touchy-feely? Too something. My gut reaction was to push back a bit. My upbringing and education relied strongly on doctrine and data, not how we feel about God or our faith. 

As I started reading, though, I was struck by how little I practice what Taylor is promoting. I so rarely set aside the academic approach to faith and allow myself to experience God in the small ways around me. Taylor's focus on bodily practices of faith was refreshing once I opened myself up to it. 

Each chapter is devoted to a different discipline which we can use to reconnect with God. Taylor spends time relaying the spiritual benefits of walking, getting lost, saying no, feeling pain, and prayer, among others. Some spoke to me more than others, of course. 

This book is part of my 2018 TBR Challenge!
I was particularly convicted by the chapter on getting lost. I never do that. I plan my life in ways to avoid ever having to retrace my steps or waste time. I maximize efficiency in every way I possibly can. And yet... Taylor finds the beauty in getting lost, in being dependent on others, in enjoy the journey rather than zeroing in on the destination. I'm not good at this. Relinquishing control is very hard for me; recognizing that act as a spiritual discipline is revolutionary. That message feels especially relevant in this period of my professional life where I am, admittedly, feeling a bit lost. Maybe I need to focus more on what I can learn from God in the journey rather than continually pushing Him, demanding a destination.

Taylor's message is offbeat from the mainstream, to be sure. Yet, there is so much beauty and value in what she is saying. This book, to me, is the essence of the conversation about religion vs. relationship. My evangelical upbringing taught me that a relationship is the more desirable of those two, yet it imbued me with all sorts of religious stringency. Taylor offers a beautiful reminder that God began this world with daily walks in the garden with the humans He had created. Surely, then, our simple and quiet quotidian have the potential to direct us back toward that original purpose of dwelling with God. 

Quotes I Loved:

  • "In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life."
  • "The problem is, many of the people in need of saving are in churches, and at least part of what they need saving from is the idea that God sees the world the same way they do." PREACH!
  • "I have an easier time loving humankind than I do loving particular human beings."
  • "I noticed how much more I notice when I am not preoccupied with getting somewhere."

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Possibly
If You Liked This, Try: One Thousand Gifts / Still / Hallelujah Anyway

A Reduced Review: A celebration of the spiritual in the quotidian. I initially pushed back against Taylor's message before recognizing the simple beauty they hold. 

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