I don’t think I’ve savored a book more than I have An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. Barbara Brown Taylor is a critically acclaimed pastor, writer, and teacher, and this book is a memoir of sorts all about spiritual practices. She begins her first chapter by describing how one gains wisdom: not by simply knowing what to do, but by practicing and living life fully enough to see the consequences, both good and bad. Here’s one quote I loved that explains the whole idea:
“Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right, and noticing what happens when that practice succeeds and when it fails. Wise people do not have to be certain what they believe before they act. They are free to act, trusting that the practice itself will teach them what they need to know...Such wisdom is far more than information. To gain it, you need more than a brain. You need a body that gets hungry, feels pain, thrills to pleasure, craves rest. This is your physical pass into the accumulated of all who have preceded you on this earth. To gain wisdom, you need flesh and blood, because wisdom involved bodies--and not just human bodies, but bird bodies, tree bodies, water bodies, and celestial bodies. According to the Talmud, every blade of grass has its own angel bending over it, whispering, ‘Grow, grow.’ How does one learn to see and hear such angels?”
That’s beautiful, isn’t it? This idea that we learn by doing and by practicing has been a recurring theme in my life in the past couple of weeks. It was especially on my mind a few weeks ago, when I went to the prayer room every day that week. Even though those moments in the prayer room weren’t always the most profound, being intentional about prayer kept my mind on God. Since that week, I’ve found it easier to just stop during the day and say a prayer or a praise. It doesn’t have to be thirty minutes or even ten, but allowing myself to stop the craziness of life and focus on something outside of myself is something beautiful I’m learning to appreciate more and more everyday.
We’ve been talking a lot about practices in my Communication class this semester, too. Cultural Communications scholars see the everyday practices we carry out as extremely significant ones. Everyone wakes up, gets ready for the day, eats or gets hungry, goes from place to place, and communicates with others, and the basic fact that we all do these things shows that there is some primary connection between all human beings. But the way that we live out these realities is very different. Even the simple things I do every day, like drinking my morning coffee, checking my email, making a call on my cell phone, going to class, reading, giving a hug, brushing my teeth, whatever it may be, these practices make up a life, my life. Even though they may be similar to my friends, family members, or someone on the other side of the world, the sum of these practices is entirely unique to my life, and therefore incredibly significant.
Barbara Brown Taylor talks about a ton of practices that can become spiritually significant, and they aren’t all about doing daily devotions or fasting. I particularly loved The Practice of Paying Attention, which talks about seeing God working in everyday life; The Practice of Getting Lost, where one learns how to be a stranger and how to trust; and one I really need to hear, The Practice of Saying No, which is just what it sounds like.
Whether you believe in God, whether you’re spiritual, or whether you’re still figuring out what you believe at all, I encourage you to pick up this book. I firmly believe that we grow wiser and learn how life is lived in this world by doing just that--living it. This book teaches you how to live life intentionally, filling it with exactly what will make that life beautiful.
This week's read: The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. You've been on my list for years, Pi. This week's the week!