Book Review: An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor from Canterbury Press

An Altar in the World is a book that feeds the soul.  It is about being and living, noticing, experiencing and joining in.  It’s not a book about theory, it’s a book that encourages you to go on and do it. Its subtitle is, ‘Finding the Sacred Beneath our Feet’, and that is what we are encouraged to do.

Each chapter is entitled “The Practice of…”, taking us through Waking Up to God, Paying Attention, Wearing Skin, Walking on the Earth, Getting Lost, Encountering Others, Living with Purpose, Saying No, Carrying Water, Feeling Pain and Being Present to God – all things we easily lose sight of in getting on with living life…

The book concludes with a chapter on Pronouncing Blessings.  It reiterates the message that to have ‘An Altar in the world’ we need to notice things.  To pay attention as we go through life, and to be ready to receive as much as we give.  Taking the practice of blessing into my life seems a very positive and helpful thing to do – even especially a blessing to me – remembering that the holiness is already there before I notice it.

And so this book encourages to take notice; to be a part of; to see people, life and where God already is.

My one argument with the book is where Barbara Brown Taylor acknowledges that not everyone can walk, as in walking a labyrinth perhaps, but that watching others walking is as much a meditation (page 60).  I, personally would dispute this.   Perhaps this shows my hangups, but if something is meant to be walked or entered into in some other way I was not able to (eg sung), I would find it very hard to embody it by watching someone else doing what I couldn’t.

My favourite quote from the book, as I mentioned on Twitter at the time, is

There are times when dancing on tables grants more life than kneeling in prayer.  More to the point, there are times when dancing on tables is the most authentic reach… (page 47)

Now that is my kind of theology!

I enjoyed this book and found it helpful.  I was encouraged again to pay attention – carefully, to see what I might have forgotten, or never even noticed.

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