Barbara Brown Taylor spent 15 years in parish ministry and was named one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world by Baylor University in 1996. She became a professor of religion at Piedmont College in 1998 and also teaches spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary. Still a priest in the Episcopal Church, she lives on a working farm in rural north Georgia with her husband. Taylor calls this book a field guide to spiritual practices which can lend meaning and richness to our lives. In a poetic and profound passage, she sets the stage for what follows:
"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 can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world."
Whereas many spiritual seekers spend a lot of time and energy on quests that take them far from home, Taylor suggests that we have all we need in the everyday activities of our lives. She presents formal and informal spiritual practices to use as a spur to deepening our humanity and broadening our connection with others. Here are the chapters in the book to give an idea of what is covered here:
• The Practice of Waking Up to God (Vision)
• The Practice of Paying Attention (Reverence)
• The Practice of Wearing Skin (Incarnation)
• The Practice of Walking on the Earth (Groundedness)
• The Practice of Getting Lost (Wilderness)
• The Practice of Encountering Others (Community)
• The Practice of Living with Purpose (Vocation)
• The Practice of Saying No (Sabbath)
• The Practice of Carrying Water (Physical Labor)
• The Practice of Feeling Pain (Breakthrough)
• The Practice of Being Present to God (Prayer)
• The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings (Benediction)
Along the way, Taylor shares many colorful vignettes from her own life and ponders the experiences of some well-known Biblical characters. We appreciated her practices of praying while standing naked in front a full-length mirror, making eye contact with a cashier at a grocery store, and blessing people sitting at the departure gate at an airport. One of our favorite lines in the book is this one: "Hanging laundry on the line offers you the chance to fly prayer flags disguised as bath towels and underwear."
Everyday spirituality is a path that enables us to be totally present in all that we do. Spiritual practices such as keeping the Sabbath, walking meditation, and prayer have been central to many of the world's religions. We agree with Taylor's conclusion: "Even now, purposeful return to these practices has the power to save religions that have just about run out of breath."