Monday, 31 January 2011

An Altar in the World

I've just come to the end of Barbara Brown Taylor's, An Altar in the World. I've found it one of those books that is such a pleasure to read that inevitably it brings a slight sadness to conclude. On the back cover blurb it's described as 'lyrical', and 'reveals the countless ways we can discover divine depths in the small things we do and see every day.'

Barbara Brown Taylor takes some fairly large themes, but grounds them in twelve practices. So, Vision has the chapter heading, The Practice of Waking Up to God, and Incarnation, The Practice of Walking on the Earth. You really could read the twelve chapters in any order, although it seems most appropriate to conclude with Benediction, The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings.

In The Practice of Feeling Pain, which develops into a brief exploration of the Old Testament book of Job, she writes, 'Pain is provocative. Pain pushes people to the edge, causing them to ask fundamental questions such as "Why is this happening?" and "How can this be fixed?" Pain brings out the best in people along with the worst. Pain strips away all the illusions required to maintain the status quo. Pain begs for change, and when those in its grip find no release on earth, plenty of them look to heaven - including some whose formal belief systems preclude such wishful thinking.'

In a chapter on Prayer, 'The Practice of Being Present to God, she talks of an experience of shared silence with a group of students. 'Young people whose heads stay full of iTunes, Spanish homework, instant messaging, play practice, parental advice, Guitar Hero, cross-country, term papers, e-mail, romantic sags, CSI, chorale, X Box, debate team, Second Life, baseball, and the procurement of illegal substances can be startled to hear the sound of their own heartbeats for the first time. They had no idea there was so much space inside of them. No one ever taught them how to hold still enough long enough for the shy deer-soul inside of them to step into the clearing and speak.'

'The shy deer-soul inside of them' - what a gorgeous, evocative image!

This is a beautifully written, deeply thoughtful book, though highly accessible, which not only interests, nourishes and moves the reader, but does so through drawing one into an internal dialogue with the author's themes.

The sub-title is, Finding the Sacred Beneath our Feet, and the final poem, taken from a book, 'The Essential Rumi', I loved for an obvious reason,
'Today like every other day we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.'

1 comment:

Sue Barker said...

Thank you Geoff, this sounds like a book I would benefit from reading. But I'm not sure about waking up empty and afraid - I wake up imagining the day as an empty canvas, excited to see what the day is going to bring and unfortunately I can't play a musical instrument!