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An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  7,231 ratings  ·  734 reviews
In her critically acclaimed Leaving Church ("a beautiful, absorbing memoir."—Dallas Morning News), Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about leaving full-time ministry to become a professor, a decision that stretched the boundaries of her faith. Now, in her stunning follow-up, An Altar in the World, she shares how she learned to encounter God beyond the walls of any church.

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Hardcover, 216 pages
Published February 10th 2009 by HarperOne (first published January 1st 2009)
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Kathy I've come to the realization that God already knows what we pray for -- we don't need to tell God about the tragedies in the world, our deepest concer…moreI've come to the realization that God already knows what we pray for -- we don't need to tell God about the tragedies in the world, our deepest concerns, etc. The Bible says the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. But prayer connects us to God, and connects us to others, and that is why we MUST pray. We need that connection with God, God desires that connection with us. And even if we pray for someone we will never meet, prayer connects us to our community and our world in ways that are ever so important. That is why prayer is good.(less)

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I read this for a church book club, and while the book had some solid, even excellent, chapters, in other ways I found it flawed. An Altar in the World is best suited for people who identify as "spiritual, but not religious," and for those who are looking to expand their spirituality outside of their standard worship experience. Taylor tends to dismiss out of hand what religion has to offer outside of a standard (often boring) weekly worship experience, so I would urge those who are working with ...more
Susan Ideus
Sep 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I wondered how I had forgotten that the whole world is the House of God. Who had persuaded me that God preferred four walls and a roof to wide-open spaces? When had I made the subtle switch myself, becoming convinced that church bodies and buildings were the safest and most reliable places to encounter the living God? (p. 4, An Altar in the World)

Thus it is that Barbara Brown Taylor begins finding altars in the world as places where even the most reverent or the most jaded among us can encount
Elizabeth Andrew
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality
Barbara Brown Taylor is our twenty-first century Henri Nouwen. I'm immensely grateful for AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD, for its elegant, lively prose, yes, but mostly for its practical application of a big-hearted faith. In the prologue, Taylor writes, "What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I ...more
Henry Le Nav
Mar 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am a sucker for any book that has the word geography in the title. I enjoyed this book but ultimately it disappointed me. It does a very good job of helping people with a crisis of church or religion. Her lesson seems to be that one should be and do rather than think. Taylor reminds us that we have a body and the body is Sacred. She shows us many ways to express one's spirituality by stopping and smelling the roses, fully experiencing life, and performing service to others. She states, correct ...more
Mar 28, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, religion
This is a book about some of the different practices of worshiping and recognizing God in our lives. The practices are;
1. practice of waking up to God
2. practice of paying attention
3. practice of wearing skin
4. practice of walking on the earth
5. practice of encountering others
6. practice of living with purpose
7. practice of saying no
8. practice of feeling pain
9. practice of being present to God (prayer and prayers which I read while taking shelter during the tornado warning)
10. practice of prono
I read this with my small group (six women, including two widows in their 70's/80's and four "empty nesters" in their 50's and 60's) over the last six weeks; each week, the six of us would meet to discuss two chapters. This is the second book we've read together, so we knew a little about each other before we started. The conversations we had over this book have made a deep and lasting impression on me.

As has this book. It is beautifully written, with just the right mix of Taylor's own thoughts
Jun 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2013, spirit
It's been a long time since I devoured any book in just one day. I was led to this one by nothing less than divine urging, when I was supposed to be reading another book I'd been asked to check out in order to lead a discussion group about it. I felt blocked about that one for some reason, couldn't make myself read it, and instead I obeyed the nudge to the bookshelf, got down An Altar in the World, read the introduction, underlined several things there (haven't done that in a while either), read ...more
Allison Severson
I put this book on my "read" shelf, though it could also be on my "currently-reading" list, as I have read most of the chapters, albeit not in order.

I loved the chapter on pain and suffering (which sounds strange), but I read it when I had been mildly-ill for a few weeks. Certainly put my illness in perspective, and she really articulated how we are awakened and called to when we're sick (at least that's how I interpreted it having read it months ago now).

The book was a gift from a mentor and
Sep 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Barbara Brown Taylor's story of her journey of faith is so engrossing and easy to read. She writes as though she's your best friend--never preachy or "religious"--just REAL! The structure of her memoir is such that any part can be read at any time and it will make complete sense. Beautiful writing that really spoke to me. A definite must!
I just finished this amazing book and cannot recommend it highly enough. A must read for anyone who enjoys excellent writing, incredible insights, and a joy of
Mar 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
The author is an Episcopal priest who is no longer in what we would term "active ministry." The entire premise of the book, subtitled "A Geography of Faith," is that there are altars everywhere and we can constantly worship and minister wherever we are. She does not discount the extreme value of communal worship, but she sees the sacred in the everyday. Each chapter explores a different "altar," such as getting lost, encountering others, walking, paying attention. She spends time talking aboout ...more
Kat Coffin
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I liked "Leaving Church" and "Learning to Walk in the Dark", but "An Altar in the World" was the first of Taylor's books to profoundly affect me. So much so, that I decided to incorporate the spiritual practices she discusses into my Lenten observance this year. She is such a graceful writer and there was so much of how she views God that sunk into the marrow of my bones. ...more
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a very grounding book that I reread periodically just to help keep my head and heart straight.
This is still my favorite book by Barbara Brown Taylor. This was my third or fourth time reading it. Highly recommend.
debbicat *made of stardust*
Incredibly insightful. This author speaks to my spirit and soul. Full review to follow.
Angela Kantola
Nov 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a beautiful book -- another one borrowed from the library, but which I want to purchase. Brown discusses twelve spiritual practices, but as she says, each practice is "an exercise in being human that requires a body as well as a soul." From the introduction: "What is saving in my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the mos ...more
Sep 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
Marvelous book about the spirituality inherent in the everyday things of our lives. The author writes with both beauty and insight about the holiness of things like paying attention, taking a walk, community, physical work, and practicing a personal Sabbath. I was especially struck by her thoughts on sacraments. She wrote, "Regarded properly, anything can become a sacrament, by which I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual connection." In the Catholic Church, a sacrament is ...more
Jordan Magnuson
An Altar in the World is, in many ways, an unremarkable book: it is quiet, it is humble, it spouts obvious truths. Barbara Brown Taylor is not the first person to seek after an undivided life, a holistic spirituality, a Christianity which is more concerned with Christ than with religion... indeed, her own pages, which draw on sources ranging from Desert Fathers to Mystics to Quakers, testify to that fact: we have long sought wholeness.

Yet despite all our postmodern striving towards unity, we st
Oct 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I had this book on my "to read" list for it seems like forever. I am so glad I finally sat down with it. I thoroughly enjoyed the twelve different chapters on ways to enhance your spiritual experience grounded in everyday life. These practices are very doable, even in the midst of a hectic, busy life. You just need to pay attention to what is inside and around you. The chapters can be read in order or at random. You can skip around to see what speaks to you. She asserts that "all of life is holy ...more
Jul 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016
Loved this book's focus on bodies--how it's not accidental that we're born with them--and on everyday embodied spiritual practices. Five big stars for chapter eight, on the practices of saying no, of sabbath, of making space. I will go back and read that again. I find my soul drawn, again and again, to simplicity, to beauty, to connection, to mystery. In Barbara Brown Taylor I found a friendly, funny, grounded spiritual guide who has great experience and insight on how embracing these human, som ...more
Jan 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful book. If you are a poet, if you are a lover of words, if you are a lover of all things beautiful and want to know how this works together with your faith, you should read this. This is a book of doing, of "spiritual practices" like paying attention, wearing skin and getting lost. Get ready, the paperback cover is going to be gorgeous, and you're going to want to buy this book for both the outside AND what's inside. ...more
Vannetta Chapman
Feb 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My pastor recommended this book for reading during Lent. It was fabulous. I'm not much of a nonfiction reader, so when I say it's really good--that's a huge compliment!

Taylor's approach is a bit unorthodox, but her general idea is that God can be found everywhere, not just within the walls of the church. The book explores that concept. I'd love to read something else by here.
Oct 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful, funny, beautiful, moving book. I'll read it again and again. And I highly recommend it to anyone with a spiritual life, including seekers and those struggling with their spiritual life! ...more
Erin Henry
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I feel like I should read this again slowly. It has so many ideas for practices to see the holiness or goodness in the world. The practice of paying attention, wearing skin, feeling pain and pronouncing blessings were my favorites and I hope to put them into daily practice.
Peggy Otto
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a book I will read again. Each chapter can function alone as a meditation on the holiness of the physical in our lives.
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Barbara Brown Taylor speaks like a friend, who sits with you long after the meal is over, talking about everyday life and somehow revealing its holiness. I savored this book, reading a chapter a day, and sometimes slower than that. I needed time to reflect on her perspective of God.

“To learn to look with compassion on everything that is; to see past the terrifying demons outside to the bawling hearts within; to make the first move towards the other, however many times it takes to get close; to
Emily Abernathy
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book from cover to cover. The way Barbara Brown Taylor writes about the things of everyday life make me more grateful to be human. This book is for the person who wants to feel more connection to God throughout the day. Household chores, walking, cooking, going to Target...all of these things can be spiritual practices. I plan on reading this book again and again and sharing it with people who want to live a more intentional life.

I especially loved the chapters on community, vocatio
Samantha Baruzzini
Jul 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book really moved me. I read it slowly because it felt sacred. It spoke very much into my soul and I think I’d like to read it again with a journal next to me so that I can think and respond more deeply to some of the ways BBT inspires. Some Christians may scoff at her use of the world’s religions in some of her examples but I truly appreciated it. I WANT to understand other perspectives and the people who share them... not rate a book 3 stars because it shares pieces of the world I know no ...more
Jaquie Campos
Aug 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I didn’t think I’d like this book, because the cover of the copy I borrowed wasn’t to my taste. I didn’t think I liked this book, when I was two chapters in and rereading the story of Jacob for what felt like the thousandth time this season. I didn’t think to like this book, but I kept reading until I was listening to her talk about the Spiritual practice of getting lost well I was at that moment lost in an IKEA. I like this book. Very much.
Erin Glimps
Feb 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book on spiritual disciplines is unlike any that I’ve come across before. The author challenges the reader to find God in our every day occurrences such as cleaning your house or going on a walk, for “the whole world is His altar.” It’s beautifully written and very convicting.
Jan 12, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Book Worth Reading

This is definitely a book worth reading! It offers some different but needed takes on spirituality. I didn’t love every chapter though so only 3 stars.
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Trinity Episcopal...: An Altar in the World (discussion) 1 9 Jul 03, 2013 09:57AM  

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Barbara Brown Taylor is a New York Times best-selling author, teacher, and Episcopal priest. Her first memoir, Leaving Church (2006), won an Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. Her last book, Learning to Walk in the Dark (2014), was featured on the cover of TIME magazine. She has served on the faculties of Piedmont College, Columbia Theological Seminary, Candler School o ...more

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49 likes · 9 comments
“The problem is, many of the people in need of saving are in churches, and at least part of what they need saving from is the idea that God sees the world the same way they do.” 104 likes
“To make bread or love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger—these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone. In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life.” 101 likes
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