Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Go To Book

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
by Barbara Brown Taylor

So far, for 2009, this is the book for deepening the spiritual experience. It is readable, practical, wise, and beautifully written. I have given this book as a gift to a couple of friends already, and foresee giving it to many more. I also gave it as a graduation gift to our congregation's 10 high school seniors a couple of weeks ago. The title is a little misleading - rather than a "geography of faith," I would probably call it something like "Faith in Everyday Experience" or "Finding the Spiritual in the Ordinary." What Barbara Brown Taylor is really getting at is the integration of spiritual practice into the most mundane of tasks - washing dishes, walking, peeling potatoes, reading, writing, whatever.

What appeals to me about An Altar in the World is its accessibility. So many books about spiritual practice imply that we must give up the pleasures of this earth, or that the ordinary (some would say boring) tasks that are required of us every day are obstacles to experiences of the divine presence. Often, books about spiritual practice seem to require that we move off into a tent somewhere and light a candle and forget everything else. Most of us cannot do that. Taylor's perspective, however, is that moments of connection with the divine are ours to be had all the time, everywhere, if we only cultivate our own souls to perceive and receive those moments. That possibility is gift for someone like me who has never been terribly good at the solitary, meditative aspects of the contemplative life.

Taylor structures her book around various spiritual practices, most of which date back to our ancient ancestors in the faith. Rather than coming up with a bunch of newfangled stuff, she is taking us back to our roots, when faith and life were not so compartmentalized. With the right spiritual outlook, our faith can permeate every aspect of our day and night. Potentially, we can find every experience infused with meaning and grace. Some of the chapters in the book include "The Practice of Paying Attention" (one of my favorites), "The Practice of Walking on the Earth," and "The Practice of Living in Community." As someone who is making a conscious effort to live a more integrated life, I found An Altar in the World to be full of smart suggestions as to how to do this in ways that are not completely disruptive to the life of a mom with two young children. Taylor reminds us that people and situations that initially can seem like an obstacle to our contemplative life (kids, talkative strangers, unexpected delays) can actually be opportunities for us to experience more unity with God and with each other. We only have to be looking at situations through the right kind of lenses.

Get it. Read it. Give it to someone else. It's a book that reads easily, but that you will return to again and again.

Reverent Reader


At 7/4/09, 1:28 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently read Leaving Church and really liked a lot of things BBT had to say. Someone suggested this one to me...I need to read it! Erin

At 7/4/09, 7:56 PM , Blogger journeywoman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 7/4/09, 8:01 PM , Blogger journeywoman said...

While you told me that I was an 'evil influence' when I mentioned this book, I have bought and read several that you've reviewed since then, so I think that we are even!
I agree with what you say about the practicality of the suggestions in this book. Everything in life is a spiritual experience/teaching if we choose to see our lives through those eyes! And seeing the events of our lives through those eyes is really a form of praying without ceasing... although we are all human and that is not literally possible.

At 7/7/09, 1:51 AM , Anonymous Lisa Nuss said...

Hi, I'm a faitful reader of your book reviews, and I just finished The Soloist. I heard about it first on your blog. I am trying to start "Three Cups of Tea" again. I also read "Half a Yellow Sun" on your recommendation, what an excellent book. If you haven't read "Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Zafon, I recommend it highly. It's historical fiction, coming of age, fantasy, mystery and very complex characters set after (and going back to) the Spanish Civil War.
{PS My blog is defunct!}


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