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on 22 January 2010
Barbara Brown Taylor illuminates what the Celtic Theologians call "the thin places." Those are places were we experience the sacred dimension, the holy. This writer shines the light of her exceptional writing and story-telling on those situations and experiences in her life and ours, where glory glows and warms our hearts. Her focus is on practices not doctrine. Each practice she explores, "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," "being present to God," and "pronouncing blessing," connects to our ordinary daily experiences and to some part of scripture, in which, like Jacob, we awake to declare "God was in this place and I didn't know it." The appropriate response to encounters with the holy in ordinary living is thanksgiving and "setting up an altar" at least in our hearts. She writes so well, is so insightful, and so down to earth, anyone reading this book will find their spiritual life and awareness enriched, broadened and deepened. She quotes Br. David Steindl-Rast's amazing book
Gratefulness,the Heart of Prayer." Reading and practicing what her book has to say is a form of prayer.
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on 5 August 2010
Although most of the fiction I read is American, I have to admit something of a predjudice against reading American spirituality; this book has changed my mind completely.
I knew nothing about the author before buying, and bought it on the strength of the reviews here and elsewhere. I was not disappointed. This is a stunningly beautiful book, and the quality of the writing is as good as it gets. The author's sensibility is rather similar to that of Annie Dillard, but somewhat calmer in tone. The book is full of wonderful personal anecdote, humour, joy, and a searing vision of the world as a spirit-charged place. Above all this is a book to use; lots of books claim to change your life, but if you do the excercises I don't see how you couldn't be transformed.
This is a down to earth spiritual classic.
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on 1 January 2010
My favourite book. I seldom read a book more than once. However, as soon as I reached the end of this one I started it again - more slowly this time. I am now on my third reading. The book a is beautifully written reflection on finding the sacred in the ordinary parts of our lives. It takes a couple of chapters to get going so do please persevere with it.
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on 5 June 2013
Barbara Brown Taylor writes inspiringly from her depth of experience, encouraging her reader not to look for God in the remote or far-flung, but right where we are. With sound teaching, helpful illustrations and authentic stories Brown Taylor makes God possible for everyone.
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on 23 February 2014
Sometimes I find these books hard going, and I usually have to reread them in order for the contents to be absorbed. This book is so easy to read, but with so much meaning, I can identify with it. It is a pleasure to read, and I will look for more books by this author.
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on 28 November 2015
I have read most of the stuff she has written and rate it very highly. I am particularly interested in her observations from the time when she stopped being a parish priest and got a teaching job. There, as many of us have experienced, you encounter people who are ‘spiritual but not religious.’ Many church folk are contemptuous of these types, unaware that they are genuine seekers who dislike dogmas and rules – not because they don’t want such but because they have not found any sustenance in them, often because of the way that some self-righteous church people have presented them

While many go to great lengths to find a spirituality – like the Beatles going to see a guru in India – holiness lies beneath our feet, in the shopping and washing up.

The key thing is to follow the advice of the Buddha: Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; rather, seek what they sought.

While many church folk despise those who say they are nearer to God in a garden, our author agrees with this idea.

I recently shocked a discussion group when I mentioned her habit of praying whilst naked in front of a mirror.

Her take on ashing at the start of Lent is the most direct I’ve ever encountered: you are invited to your own funeral.

I thought her chapter on ‘saying no’ was a little weak. It’s all very well arguing that we should but she has no advice for church folk struggling when asked to attend endless meetings and committees.

The implications of her chapter on pain are very scary.
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on 22 August 2015
She is able to find God in everything and be thankful.
Its even better if you listen to her on Audible - she has quite a wicked sense of humour and I missed some of the subtleties when I read it. Ive probably read it or listened to it 3 times now and haven't tired.
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on 13 July 2015
I bought this book to take with me on a retreat. It was very readable, enjoyable and insightful. I would highly recommend it if you are looking for a refreshing and intelligent take on what spiritual life can be.
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on 21 February 2015
A thought provoking book written in an accessible style which encourages you to read on. I shall want to read it again and share it with friends. I am so pleased I bought it.
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on 25 August 2014
Barbara Brown Taylor's amazing book “An Alter in the World” is insightful and wise. She says she forgot the whole world is the House of God before she woke up to God. She wondered who persuaded her that God preferred four walls to wide-open spaces, that God's home is a church and that the world was a barren place full of lost souls needing help. She now believes the people in churches need saving from the idea that God sees the world the same way they do.
Like Francis of Assisi Taylor says we can read the world as reverently as we read the Bible. She sees reverence as the awaking of awe. It's the reminder of our true size. The easiest way to practice reverence is to sit outside and pay close attention to everything that lives nearby. With luck we'll feel a tenderness and wonder for the struggles of ants and acorns. We may even feel the beat of our heart.
Taylor shows how our spiritual lives depend on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with exquisite attention. What we lack for this treasure is a willingness to imagine we already have everything we need.
She says all the world's great faiths are meant to teach us what it means to be more fully human. We live in the world that is waiting for us to notice the holiness in it. Faith is not just a way of thinking. Bodily practices should remind us that faith is a way of life. Our spiritual practices should bring us back to our body. To have gratitude for life as God's trusted flesh and blood. To bring divine love to earth. She asks us not to dismiss the body's wisdom because it does not use words.
Taylor says when people ask about her prayer life she sometimes describes hanging laundry on the line. As the breeze tosses the clothes in the wind she imagines her prayers spinning away over the tops of the trees. This work is good prayer.
Taylor says walking is the most available spiritual practice. We have difficulty recognizing where we really are as we spend most of our time thinking about the past. There are spiritual teachers who teach attentiveness including walking meditation. The four gospels give many accounts of Jesus walking by the sea of Galilee and even walking on water. Going barefoot is also a spiritual practice. Moses was told to remove his sandals as the place he was standing on was holy ground. Taylor says the spiritual practice of going barefoot can take you around the world and wake you up to your place in the world.
The Practice of Getting Lost was one of my favorite chapters. We, like Taylor's cows, follow the same tracks in a field. It's normal and there are good reasons. However, it also allows us to stay unconscious. Getting lost is a good remedy for the deadening habit of taking the safest, shortest path. It leads us to new people, places and things. It makes us more aware of our steps, forces us use to all of our senses and to make new choices. When we are alert, our senses come alive, we become more aware and see more. Choosing to get lost is a low-risk way to develop new skills for managing panic. Taylor recommends looking at being lost as a spiritual practice, a way to build the muscles for radical trust. God does some of His best work with people who are truly, seriously lost. Even Jesus chose to become lost when he spent 40 days being tested in the desert. She says the best way to grow empathy for those who are lost is to know what it means to be lost yourself.
Her chapter on community was particularly helpful. I too am an introvert and feel grateful when people draw me out of myself. Taylor says the main impediment to living a life of meaning is being self-absorbed.
She also speaks of the Christian mystical tradition of divine union. It can happen alone, with other people or with the natural world. The light of wholeness makes no distinction between God, other people or trees. Everything exists and lives in wholeness and light. She says the hardest spiritual work is to love your neighbor as yourself. Unfortunately, in our world nothing strengthens community like a common enemy. Yet, what we have in common is our humanity.
Concerning work Taylor says it's not what we do but how we do it that matters. Our work not only includes loving God and neighbor as myself but the vocation of becoming fully human. To turn gratitude for being alive into some common concrete good. Taylor sees housework as a domestic art. It's a powerful way to return to our senses.
Keeping the Sabbath can be part of the practice of saying No. A way to resist the our culture's killing rhythms of drivenness, depletion, compulsion and collapse.
Taylor says there is grace in physical labor when it is done as a spiritual practice. She points out how spikes in our pain bear some relationship to leaps of growth. To make peace with pain can require as much energy as fighting it. She says for those willing to stay awake, pain remains a reliable altar in the world.
There is profound, life-changing wisdom on every page of Barbara Brown Taylor's book “An Alter in the World.”
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