Barbara Brown Taylor ranks among the most popular writers we have featured at ReadTheSpirit. Every day for nearly a year now, readers from around the world have visited our online magazine just to read our February 2009 conversation with Barbara. That’s a remarkably large and curious audience seeking out her spiritual wisdom.
This week, on Wednesday, we are publishing a brand-new conversation with Barbara, focused on the paperback release of her popular book on spiritual practices, “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.”
The paperback will be in bookstores on February 9, but you can pre-order “Altar in the World” via Amazon right now. The book is an excellent choice for small-group study during Lent, which starts February 17 for most Christians in the U.S. If you order now via Amazon, you’ll have your books ready to start a Lenten group around Ash Wednesday.
Why is her voice so appealing to so many? One reason is her honest elegance in expressing truths that throw open windows in our everyday lives—allowing fresh perspectives on life. She is an admirer of the great memoirist Frederick Buechner and her prose, at its best, is reminiscent of his style.
What does that mean on a practical level? It means you’ll finish her book with dozens of pages folded over or marked in some other fashion so you can find and re-read favorite lines again.
You’ll read much more about “An Altar” and Barbara’s own reflections on the book in light of 2010 on Wednesday. Right now, the best way we know to explain why Barbara Brown Taylor is such a great Lenten choice is to let her begin speaking for herself.
Here are a few paragraphs from her book’s Introduction …
When people talk about spirituality … they know there is more to life than what meets the eye. They have drawn close to this “More” in nature, in love, in art, in grief. They would be happy for someone to teach them how to spend more time in the presence of this deeper reality, but when they visit the places where such knowledge is supposed to be found, they often find the rituals hollow and the language antique.
Even religious people are vulnerable to this longing. Those who belong to communities of faith have acquired a certain patience with what is sometimes called organized religion. They have learned to forgive its shortcomings as they have learned to forgive themselves. They do not expect their institutions to stand in for God, and they are happy to use inherited maps for some of life’s journeys. They do not need to walk off every cliff all by themselves. Yet they too can harbor the sense that there is more to life than they are being shown. Where is the secret hidden? Who has the key to the treasure box of More?
People seem willing to look all over the place for this treasure. They will spend hours launching prayers into the heavens. They will travel halfway around the world to visit a monastery in India or to take part in a mission trip to Belize. The last place most people look is right under their feet, in the everyday activities, accidents and encounters of their lives. What possible spiritual significance could a trip to the grocery store have? How could something as common as a toothache be a door to greater life?
No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)