Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Altar in the World

Many years ago, I read a book by Mark Buchanan in which he proposed that things of life were not so much divided into religious and secular, but into sacred and profane.  I think that was a beginning of my looking for the sacred in the ordinary.  No doubt, that's why if I were to keep a Top 10 list of favorite books and another for authors, today's "Friday's Volume" would be high on both.  May I introduce to you AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD by Barbara Brown Taylor.

Barbara Brown Taylor spent her formative years as an Episcopal priest in Atlanta and then in Clarksville, GA until she left full-time ministry to become a professor at Piedmont College, a decision that stretched her faith beyond the four walls of a church building.  In today's book, she introduces us to her new discoveries of spiritual practices and the uncovering of new "altars."  Unlike the common disciplines of fasting, prayer, and lectio divino (sacred readings), her disciplines are the far more barefoot-on-the-pavement kind.  Just listen:

The practice of waking up to God
The practice of paying attention
The practice of wearing skin
The practice of walking on the earth
The practice of getting lost
The practice of encountering others
The practice of living with purpose
The practice of saying no
The practice of carrying water
The practice of feeling pain
The practice of being present to God
The practice of pronouncing blessings

The first time I picked up this particular book, it was a read-through.  I'll even admit I began by approaching it cautiously, just as I do any author with whom I'm unfamiliar.  But now it sits next to me at my reading station, the couch in my sun room.  I pick it up often, and I linger over passages.  I absorb them.  I think over them.  And very often, I pray over them.  Whereas I'll be the first to admit that some parts are very interesting ... if not daring, I can turn to any page, and be blessed. 

A friend with whom I shared a copy of this book gave this insight: "Barbara Brown Taylor models a transparency that enables people to see themselves."  Indeed she does.  I know for me, it has come in the form of a yearning to know God more and to experience His presence in a greater reality in day to day living.  From walking barefoot in the backyard to being stuck in traffic, from going to the local grocery store to digging Yukon gold potatoes in the backyard, Mrs. Taylor reveals concrete ways to see in all we do the sacred in the ordinary -- the altars in the world, if you will -- if we'll just pay attention.

Who knows?  The ground you're standing on just might be holy.  Anybody care to take off their shoes with me?

Contributed by Nancy McLendon

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