An Altar in the World review and a personal note

Well, I have finally finished my first Barbara Brown Taylor book.  I have started many of her books before, but until this one, I had never finished.  Not sure why, but it is just how it happened.  Rev. Taylor is a wonderful writer with some wonderful spiritual insights, but I had just not connected well with her writing prior to this piece.  I started this book several weeks ago as my morning devotions as each chapter focused on a new “simple discipline.”  The subtitle of the book is ” A Geography of Faith.”

It was that subtitle that initially drew me in.  When I think of geography, I think of maps, pictures, directions, and so forth.  The phrase that comes to mind is “the lay of the land.”  I know there is a great deal more to geography, but the “lay of the land” fits what I experienced in Taylor’s book.  She is painting a picture of the land of the spiritual life.  Noting some of the hills that one needs to climb, the valleys to cross, and the prairie grasslands to lay down and relax in.

She goes through 12 practices – some very challenging, some very encouraging, some both – but all of them focused on the simplicity of the discipline.  She makes it clear that many of the spiritual disciplines we are called to practice are actually things that we are doing in other ways and need a refocus.   The twelve disciplines are:

  • The practice of waking up to God – Vision
  • The practice of paying attention – Reverence
  • The practice of wearing skin – Incarnation
  • The practice of walking on the earth – Groundedness
  • The practice of getting lost – Wilderness
  • The practice of encountering others – Community
  • The practice of living with purpose – Vocation
  • The practice of saying no – Sabbath
  • The practice of carrying water – Physical Labor
  • The practice of feeling pain – Breakthrough
  • The practice of being present to God – Prayer
  • The practice of pronouncing blessings – Benediction

What Taylor does is she helps the reader find the ways that the practices of live are actually the practices of God or can be depending on how we approach them.  There is definitely intentionality required in these practices, but it is not “I have to drop these other things in order to now ‘do my spiritual discipline.'”  What it becomes is a shift in focus.  A shift from thinking that God is somewhere “out there” and that we have to find God through some series of practices that seem completely foreign to us to a realization that God is already present all around us.  I also look at this perspective as these basic disciplines being the door to further ones that are more out of the norm for our regular practice, such as fasting.  As we begin to experience the reality of Jesus in the everyday, everymoment of living, we are I think more able to move into those more unique forms of spiritual practices.   As I read the book, I found myself thinking of a similar volume by Kathleen Norris called Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.

If you are looking for a read to help you go deeper in your journey, this is a volume that I highly recommend.  It is probably one that is also done best in groups to be able to go through the various practices and the ways they are experienced in different peoples’ lives.

Personal Note – Asking for your prayers for me the next few weeks.  I was diagnosed with what might be a stress fracture, but is at least a pretty decent injury to some tendons on the outside of my right foot.  Its been really painful the last week or so and I finally decided to get to the doctor.  I get to wear this very attractive (sarcasm) “shoe” for the next two weeks to get it healing.  Fun fun fun.

2 thoughts on “An Altar in the World review and a personal note

  1. I thoroughly enjoy discoveries such as you’ve made in Taylor’s writing here. The idea that God would in some ways seamlessly integrate what it means to be human with what it means to be holy is often such a foreign concept. We expect spiritual disciplines and other pathways to spiritual formation and growth to be arduous, complicated, and nearly unattainable. But often a simple yet profound shift in focus and awareness makes a huge difference.

    Sorry the foot is giving you grief! I’ll be praying for your quick recovery and rest.


  2. Thanks for the review. I love the geography of faith metaphor, and I’ll look for Taylor’s book.

    Prayers for foot relief on the way. I suffered the silly shoe treatment a while back, and the best thing that can be said is that it comes to an end. I might add a wish that every day is a (less painful) step in the right direction, but that would just be bad.


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