a friend kim recommended an altar in the world by barbara brown taylor (which i had not heard of). i then got to hear her on the first night at greenbelt this year which was a treat. she is a lovely writer - some people who write books are really speakers who write but bbt is definitely someone with the gift of crafting written words.
i have leant the book to someone else so haven't got it in front of me to remind me of the content. but the phrase that stuck in my mind from the intro is 'x marks the spot and you are standing on it'. she suggests that often we are thinking - if i do this or hear this speaker or get that experience or go on this retreat or pray harder or whatever else you'd like to add then i will be sorted in my spiritual life (which of course is my whole life in relationship to god). but instead we need to stop looking elsewhere and notice what is in front of our eyes right now. and in paying attention we may well discover that the site we are standing on is an altar in the world, a thin place. this notion is of course very similar to the ignatian spirituality catchphrase 'finding god in all things' which i mentioned in the last review. it's a sacramental view of all of life. in many ways this kind of instinct has been the bedrock of alt worship's spirituality over the last few decades - discovering god in culture rather than in church spaces. i also think it is a very important instinct to nurture for anyone in mission or pioneering.
the book then unpacks around 10 (i can't remember the number) practices - such as pain, being with people, walking, blessing. the point about them is they are things we do anyway - the difference is in paying attention, noticing to the presence of god in front of our very eyes. i think my favourite practice was getting lost - when did you last get lost, off your beaten track i wonder?!
kim reviewed the book but i searched and couldn't find the link - i'll add it later if i find it...
in her own way barbara is qute deconstructive - she has moved out beyond churchiness (her book leaving church is also very popular) and is no doubt odd in her part of the american religious landscape, but in doing so has bumped into god everywhere. i like the notion of spirituality as waking up or having eyes opened - that seems to be what this is about. so the deconstruction ends up opening up the practice of life in wonderful ways. i have been reading some stuff on various mystics (i read the biography of theresa of avila over the summer). they often have a similar emptying out and letting go and an unknowing that leads to a deeper union with and love for christ. they are laced through with extraordinary lives of faith and prayer.
there's a lot of stuff around at the moment and there was plenty at greenbelt (which i didn't get to hear much of) which is similarly deconstructive, and lays claim to some of the mystics notions of emptying out. but unlike what i read in the mystics or see in barbara brown taylor, this trajectory doesn't seem to lead towards seeing god in all things or union with christ or even a life of practised faith. the end point is emptiness - the big surprise is that god isn't there and the resurrection is reduced to living with doubt at best. my own personal experience of faith in recent years has been characterised in some ways by unknowing and i think doubt is an important part of a life of faith, but it has led me to a much deeper sense of the presence of the resurrected christ in the world and in my own life. i am much more interested in a life that's practised as suggested by the likes of james martin and barbara brown taylor (and ian adams which will be my next review).