By Courtney Nelson
Over the extended winter break, my Lutheran Center Hive and I took time to read a book, An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, together. We read two chapters before meeting each Tuesday to discuss the content and see how it ties to our lives. I found a few parts particularly interesting and wanted to take a moment to share. It was hard to share these pieces without the context surrounding each one, so feel free to reach out if you are particularly interested in one idea and want to hear more of the backstory.
My Top Takeaways from An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor
1. There are altars and places of beauty everywhere, you just have to look around: “The practice of paying attention is as simple as looking twice at people and things you might just as easily ignore. To pay attention, all you need is a body on this earth, willing to notice where it is, trusting that even something as small as a hazelnut can be an altar in this world” (p. 54).
2. “You are worth more than you can produce. Even if you spent one whole day being good for nothing you would still be precious in God’s sight” (p. 139). I find myself getting the Sunday Scaries, an anxiety over the coming work week, quite frequently. She challenged readers to face this head on, even just for an hour. No phone, no activities, to see if you can fully rest. Let me know if you give it a shot!
3. Live in the moment. “Those who are busiest trying to figure out God’s purpose for their lives are often the least purposeful about the work they are already doing” (p. 119).
4. “Our vocation may actually be the things we do for free” (p. 116). Your call may be to dress up as Santa at Christmas or coach a sports team or be a parent. Remember that whatever the thing is, lean in and live in that moment.
5. It’s totally okay in a “hustle-bustle” society to take a break. “Sabbath is not only God’s gift to those who have voices to say how tired they are; Sabbath is also God’s gift to the tired fields, the tired vines, the tired vineyard, the tired land… Sabbath is the great equalizer, the great reminder that we do not live on this earth but in it” (p. 132).
6. Listen to your heart and body. Try this tactic to discern and discover why it may be hard to partake in Sabbath. Grab a piece of paper to make two lists. “On one side of the paper, list all of the things you know give you life that you never take time to do. Then, on the other side, make a list of all the reasons why you think it is impossible for you to do those things.” That’s all. Keep it where you can see it. Tape it to your wall (that’s what I do). She closed with, “also promise not to shush your heart when it howls for the list it wants” (p. 138).
7. We need to grapple with how religion and identity can separate us from others. According to Jonathan Swift, “We have just enough religion to make us hate one another, but not enough to make us love one another.” Taylor goes on to quote Miroslav Volf: “It may not be too much to claim that the future of our world will depend on how we deal with identity and difference” (p. 99).
“Are you still waiting for God to answer you, or is your life the answer you have been seeking, hiding in plain view?” – Taylor