Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopalian priest and theologian wrote a book entitled, An Alter In the World, whose subtitle reads, “A Geography of Faith”. She says…
“The last place most people look for God is right under their feet in the everyday activities, accidents and encounters of their lives. What possible significance could a trip to the grocery store have? How could something as common as a toothache be a door to a greater life? No one longs for what he or she already has. She suggests that the reason so many people can’t find the red X that marks the spot in our pursuit of a spiritual life is because we are standing on it.
An Alter in the World talks about how when she was younger she thought there was one particular thing she was supposed to do with her life. She queried God as to what that purpose might be. She searched for a place in which to pray, finding a fire escape that hung precariously from the side of a deserted mansion next door to the divinity school. It turned out to be an excellent place to pray. It was there she finally heard God’s voice. “One night when my whole heart was open to hearing God, God said, “Anything that pleases you.” On one hand this answer was no help at all. The ball was back in my court again. God really did not care what I chose to do with my life. It was how I did it that mattered. God was not going to supply the particulars for me. If I wanted a life of meaning than I was going to have to apply the purpose myself.
She goes on to say any spiritual treasures to be found can only be found in the bodily experiences of human life on earth. Francis of Assisi read the world as reverently as he read the bible. A singing bird was as much a messenger of God as a cloud of angels. He did not know where to draw the line between the church and the world. St. Francis’ church did not stand as a shelter from the world; it stood as a reminder that the whole world was God’s house. People encounter God under shady oak trees, in the feel and smell of humid salty beach air, or even the grassy banks of an urban park.
Two weeks ago on a Sunday morning my sanctuary was Millenium Park in downtown Chicago. My fellow congregants included my husband, son, daughter-in-law and new granddaughter. I spend so much of my life running at full speed. And I know I’m not alone, so many women I know wear a lot of hats and are simultaneously professionals, employees, moms, wives, daughters, grandmothers, volunteers, and board members. Multi-tasking all of these roles can lead to “multi-taxing” our spirits. I made the conscious decision that morning to pay full attention to the privaledge of spending time with 4 people I love most in the world; to notice that the temperature was in the non humid 80s; how soft the grass was, to notice the magnificance of the skyline along the Miracle Mile that is Michigan Avenue. To listen to the baby gurgles and squeals; to enjoy watching the father my son has become. These are the kind of experiences people wait for all their lives, sometimes paying huge sums to attain. And when they happen, we don’t always pause to be fully present in those moments. I chose to make that Sunday morning an alter in my world.
I think we can have many alters. They can be ephermal, no need for permanence. They can be different colors, or even just experiences.
Let us know about alters in your world.