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Book Review–An Altar in the World

May 30, 2012
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One of my passions right now is women getting together and supporting each other.  If I may, I will step onto my soapbox a moment.  Too often, women are pitted against each other.  I’ve read books talking about a woman’s spirit being cooperative vs. the masculine tendency towards competition.  I’ve seen and fallen prey too many times to the very vicious competitive nature of women.  Thus, when opportunities arise that bring women together to talk to each other and support each other, I sign up right away.

This is how I came to read Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World for a second time.

The director of children’s ministry at our church was attempting to get moms together to talk about a book.  This was the book she suggested.  A particular vision of hers was to start forming neighborhood groups of moms, recognizing that driving downtown in a largish city wasn’t necessarily what was on someone’s agenda.  I immediately volunteered to commit to the group of Northie mamas.

I loved the book the first time I read it two years ago.  I loved the book this time.  Rereading a book is interesting, especially non-fiction, because I find different things speak to me different times.  It’s a bit like reading the Bible through more than once.  What I marked in my Bible 1, 5, 10 or 20 years ago may not be what jumps out to me this time.

The first time I read this book, I was drawn to the chapter on the Sabbath.  At that point, I had a 1, 3, and 5 year old and the idea of a Sabbath rest seemed like a life saver.  We started instituting some of the Sabbath ideas–my husband no longer mowed the lawn on Sundays, I started taking naps and reading on Sundays, we spent time in the front yard with neighbors, we ate leftovers for Sunday lunch.  Now, the kids know that Sunday afternoons are Mommy and Daddy’s quiet times.  We’ve slipped in some regards, we eat out on Sundays sometimes now and I’ve been known to go to the grocery store Sunday afternoons, but we feel the Sabbath pull in our lives more and try to respond to it (versus ignore it).

This time, the Sabbath chapter didn’t jump out at me the way it did.  The chapters having the most impact on me were the ones on walking on earth, getting lost and blessings.  This time, because I read this book with for a mom’s group, I thought about it more as a mom.  How could what I read shape how I raised my children?  When we went camping on Mother’s Day weekend, we put getting lost into practice.  Twice we set off for a three mile hike.  Twice, we veered off path around a 1/2 mile (if that far) to explore a creek.  Twice, I participated in the practice of getting lost and it was what made the weekend so special.

What I learned is how much more I have to learn from my kids.  They know so much more of spiritual practices than I do.  Being present is how they live their lives.  Getting lost is not scary at all when you are following a stream down a hill.  In Sunday School we are studying a book about 99 Ways to Grow a Spiritually Healthy Child.  I question the premise because kids seem to be more spiritually healthy than I am.  Kids can watch birds or bugs for longer period times than I can.  My five year old is the best at noticing things in the family.  My three year gets excited every time he finds yet another rolly polly that is abundant in our yard.  My seven year reminds me repeatedly not to rush.  What can I really teach them?  Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said we should become like a child.

Taylor has encouraged me to do several things, one of which I’ve actually already acted upon (which is rather amazing for me).  Periodically, I want to walk the labyrinth that I inadvertantly discovered was within walking distance of my house.  I want to occasionally get lost.  I want to move at my children’s pace this summer.  I want to walk through this world blessing people and things, some audibly, some in my heart.  I want to read more poetry.

I hope to read this book again in 2 years.  What will pop out to me then?  What will I need to so desperately hear?  I’ve enjoyed meeting with my two other dear women.  I have found even more in common with one who I once I thought I was so different from.  (I’ve learned exactly how little political parties matter when you share your heart).

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