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Friday Faith – Book Review

March 18, 2011

I finally finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World.  I started the book a few months ago and read two chapters before it got lost in the piles of stuff on my desk.  As part of my lenten discipline, I am trying to read more every day, so I dug the book out from under the piles and finished it.  The book is fabulous and I highly recommend it.  Taylor has written a number of books that I have always heard good things about but never gotten around to reading them.  They will definitely move up some notches on my book wish list now, though.

First, a little bit about Barbara Brown Taylor.  She is a former Episcopal priest and now teaches religion at Piedmont College in rural northeast Georgia and is an adjunct professor of spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur.  She has written twelve books as well as a number of articles for publications like Sojourners and The Christian Century.  She and her husband live on a working farm, which you will find greatly influences her writings.

She is a somewhat controversial figure after leaving ordained ministry and recording her journey in the book, Leaving Church.  I am very anxious to read this one, especially since Altar in the World was written after it.

Now, to the book at hand.  Taylor takes a look at some of the basic aspects of human life and reflects on how the presence of God is experienced and the character of God is revealed in each.  The aspects range from waking up to wearing skin to getting lost.  With a mix of scriptural exegesis, story-telling, humor, and honesty, Taylor guides the reader on a sensory-opening journey through the things in life that we often don’t appreciate.  In her words, “My hope is that reading [the book] will help you recognize some of the altars in this world – ordinary-looking places where human beings have met and may continue to meet up with the divine More that they sometimes call God” (xix).

One of my favorite chapters was the one on prayer.  I identified with Taylor in her struggles with prayer and appreciated her honesty in approaching prayer.  One of the most refreshing things from the chapter was a quote from a monk and friend of Taylor’s.  He once told her, “Prayer is not the same thing as prayers” (178).  That opens up a whole new world, a new understanding of what prayer means, what it looks like, and how we enter into a life of prayer.  The chapter comes together to remind us that we can be living prayers, “to take what is as God’s ongoing answer to [us]” (185).

There is a lot of great stuff in this book, and I could go on with all my favorite quotes, but I will refrain myself.  Definitely check out the book.  It is especially good for this current season of self-reflection and discipline.  I’m happy to let you borrow my copy as well, if you don’t mind all my notes!

Oh, and get excited because next week I will be reviewing the new Rob Bell book, Love Wins!

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