Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

Several years ago I read Rabbi Lawrence Kushner's book, God was in this Place & I, i Did Not know it. That line is a translation of Genesis 28:16. KJV And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." Rabbi Kushner grapples with the meaning just as Barbara Taylor grapples with the text. For both writers the scripture acts as a springboard.

Taylor is interested in ways that the spiritual and physical worlds act towards one another—how they illuminate each other. She sets out her reasons for leaving the church, but not her faith. Belief, she believes, is rooted in specific beliefs and nature. Genesis 28:16 provides a framework for this belief.

In an interview about the book she said, "As Christians, we have allowed our faith to go to our head." What is left out, she believes, is a melding of Spirit- and- Flesh, Heaven- and divine."

She continues, "What I'm talking about is paying attention." Paying attention reminds us that the wall between these seemingly opposites is quite thin and we may see the sacred in the ordinary.

God's ladder may appear anywhere. Spiritually alive moments can occur in ordinary moments. She suggests that we can practice mindfulness—pay attention to what is around you, feel your feet on the earth. She tells the story of how Moses goes to investigate the burning bush. Taylor tunes into her surroundings and displays a gratefulness for the ordinary which, in fact, is extraordinary. Who can ever think that a blade of grass or a rock or pebble is ordinary?

She also reminds us to marvel at our bodies—to watch where we walk. To consider the "lilies of the valley". To do so with reverence. Squeezing oranges for juice is more than a routine event. Taylor quotes from a wide variety of religious sources to make her point—to create a level of thankfulness and a drawing closer to God. While she speaks of her Christian faith this is a book that can be read by people of any faith.

Taylor is most interested in her readers exploring how the physical world aids us in our worship of the the spiritual world.

"And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not."

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