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An Altar in the World: Finding the Sacred Beneath Our Feet – Barbara Brown Taylor

November 28, 2015

AAITWI 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.

AAITW 2Quotations:

In the Upanishads, God is described as “Thou Before Whom All Words Recoil.”

“I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”‘

The bush required Moses to take a time-out, at least if he wanted to do more than glance at it. He could have done that. He could have seen the flash of red out of the corner of his eye, said, “Oh, how pretty,” and kept right on driving the sheep. He did not know that it was an angel in the bush, after all. Only the story­teller knew that. Moses could have decided that he would come back tomorrow to see if the bush was still burning, when he had a little more time, only then he would not have been Moses. He would just have been a guy who got away with murder, without ever discovering what else his life might have been about.

What made him Moses was his willingness to turn aside. Wherever else he was supposed to be going and whatever else he was supposed to be doing, he decided it could wait a minute. He parked the sheep and left the narrow path in order to take a closer look at a marvelous sight. When he did, the storyteller says, God noticed. God dismissed the angel and took over the bush. “When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ ”

Read the Bible commentaries and they will tell you that the foot washing in John’s gospel is an eschatological sign of Jesus’s descent into flesh before his exalta­tion to God’s right hand, or a symbolic representation of first-century baptismal theology. But I will tell you this. After years of watching bodies being dug out of craters in Manhattan and caves in Afghanistan, after the body counts coming from southeast Asia, Gaza, and Iraq, most of us could use a reminder that God does not come to us beyond the flesh but in the flesh, at the hands of a teacher who will not be spiritualized but who goes on trust­ing the embodied sacraments of bread, wine, water, and feet.

“Do this,” he said—not believe this but do this—”in remem­brance of me.”

In our embodied life together, the words of our doctrines take on flesh. If one of our orthodox beliefs has no corporeal value, if we cannot come up with a single consequence it has for our embodied life together, then there is good reason to ask why we should bother with it at all. The issue Hauerwas raises is not whether there is any such thing as purely spiritual holiness, but “whether there is anything beside the body that can be sanctified.”‘

In far more pungent language, Daniel Berrigan once said, “It all comes down to this: Whose flesh are you touching and why? Whose flesh are you recoiling from and why? Whose flesh are you burning and why?”‘

Such questions strike below the radar screen of the intellect, where far too many questions of faith are both argued and an­swered. When I hear people talk about what is wrong with orga­nized religion, or why their mainline churches are failing, I hear about bad music, inept clergy, mean congregations, and preoccu­pation with institutional maintenance. I almost never hear about the intellectualization of faith, which strikes me as a far greater danger than anything else on the list. In an age of information overload, when a vast variety of media delivers news faster than most of us can digest—when many of us have at least two e-mail addresses, two telephone numbers, and one fax number—the last thing any of us needs is more information about God. We need the practice of incarnation, by which God saves the lives of those whose intellectual assent has turned as dry as dust, who have run frighteningly low on the bread of life, who are dying to know more God in their bodies. Not more about God. More God.

Good is the flesh that the Word has become,

good is the birthing, the milk in the breast,

good is the feeding, caressing and rest

good is the body for knowing the world,

Good is the flesh that the Word has become


Good is the body for knowing the world,

Sensing the sunlight, the tug of the ground,

Feeling, perceiving, within and around

good is the body, from cradle to grave,

Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the body from cradle to grave,
growing and ageing, arousing, impaired,
happy in clothing or lovingly bared,
good is the pleasure of God in our flesh.

Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
longing in all, as in Jesus, to dwell,
glad of embracing, and tasting, and smell,
good is the body, for good and for God,

Good is the flesh that the Word has become.  Brian Wren

Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison of all places? Jelabeddia leteati

Travel is easily the most pleasurable way to do this, since it is almost impossible to leave home without making a wrong turn somewhere. When I do, I stop to ask someone where I am in­stead of pulling over to consult my map. I know this is easier for women than it is for men. (Why does it take thousands of sperm to fertilize a single egg? Because the sperm refuse to stop and ask for directions.) I also know plenty of women who hate to ask for help, which makes this an equal-opportunity is to give up on the sufficiency of your own re is to admit that you are lost, and maybe even to be in no hurry to be found.

It can be difficult to be an introvert in church, especially if you happen to be the pastor. Liking to be alone can be interpreted as a judgment on other people’s company. Liking to be quiet can be construed as aloofness. There is so much emphasis on commu­nity in most congregations that anyone who does not participate risks being labeled a loner. This is probably why I was so happy to discover the Desert Fathers, a group of early Christians whose practice of community did not include a coffee hour.

One common problem for people who believe that God has me particular job in mind for them is that it is almost never the job they are presently doing. This means that those who are busi­!st trying to figure out God’s purpose for their lives are often the east purposeful about the work they are already doing. They can look right through the people they work with, since those people ire not players in the divine plan. They find ways to do their work without investing very much in it, since that work is not part of the divine plan. The mission to read God’s mind becomes a strat­egy for keeping their minds off their present unhappiness, until they become like ghosts going through the motions of the people they once were but no longer wish to be.

I think it is important to pray naked in front of a full-length mirror sometimes, especially when you are full of loathing for your body. Maybe you think you are too heavy. Maybe you have never liked the way your hipbones stick out. Do your breasts sag? Are you too hairy? It is always something. Then again, maybe you have been sick, or have bathed or changed clothes, but so far maintaining your equilibrium has depended upon staying covered up as much as you can. You have even discovered how to shower in the dark, so that you may have to feel what you presently loathe about yourself but you do not have to look at it.

This can only go on so long, especially for someone who of­ficially believes that God loves flesh and blood, no matter what kind of shape it is in. Whether you are sick or well, lovely or ir­regular, there comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, “Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.” After you have taken a good look around, you may decide that there is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. Bodies take real beatings. That they heal from most things is an underrated miracle. That they give birth is beyond reckoning.

When I do this, I generally decide that it is time to do a better job of wearing my skin with gratitude instead of loathing. No matter what I think of my body, I can still offer it to God to go on being useful to the world in ways both sublime and ridiculous.

God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by subtracting. — Meister Eckhart

Karl Barth once wrote, “A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity.”

The first commandment is based on the creation account in Genesis. You can tell that by the way it ends: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” God worked hard for six days and then God rested, performing the consummate act of divine freedom by doing nothing at all. Furthermore, the rest was so delicious that God did not call it good, or even very good. Instead, God blessed the seventh day and called it holy. Making Sabbath the first sacred thing in all creation  the second Sabbath candle announces: made in God’s image, you too are free.

When observant Jews light two candles on Shabbat, they light one for each of these “therefores”—a rest candle and a freedom candle—which have more to do with each other than may be apparent at first. By interrupting our economically sanctioned social order every week, Sabbath practice suspends our subtle and not so subtle ways of dominating one another on a regular basis. Because our work is so often how we both rank and rule over one another, resting from it gives us a rest from our own pecking orders as well. When the Wal-Mart cashier and the bank president are both lying on picnic blankets at the park, it is hard to tell them apart. When two sets of grandparents are at the lake with their grandchildren feeding ducks, it is hard to tell the rich ones from the poor ones.

If Bible lovers paid as much attention to Leviticus 25 as to Leviticus 18, then we might discover that God is at least as in­terested in economics as in sex. According to that astounding chapter of Torah, Sabbath is not only about also about freeing slaves, forgiving debts, restoring property, and giving the land every seventh year off.

that prayer is more than my idea of prayer and that some of what I actually do in my life may constitute genuine prayer.

When I fretted over people I knew who were in trouble, so that my worry for them followed me around all day like a hungry dog, was that prayer?

set prayers, since those particular practices strike me as the stitches that keep the quilt of prayer in place.

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