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An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith Paperback – Deckle Edge, February 9, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Author of an acclaimed memoir (Leaving Church) and a gifted preacher, Taylor is one of those rare people who truly can see the holy in everything. Since everyone should know such a person, those who don't can—no, must—read this book, with its friendly reminders of everyday sacred. Taylor's 12 chapters mine the potentially sacred meaning of simple daily activities and conditions, like walking, paying attention, saying no to work one Sabbath day each week. Hanging laundry is setting up a prayer flag, for God's sake. Since Taylor, an Episcopal priest, no longer pastors a church, she can "do church" everywhere: in line at the grocery store interacting with the cashier, walking a moonlit path with her husband. Her candor is another of the book's virtues: she is a failure at prayer, and cannot explain why or how it is, or isn't, answered ("I do not know any way to talk about answered prayer without sounding like a huckster or a honeymooner"). Savor this book. (Feb.)
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“This is the most completely beautiful book in religion that I have read in a very long time. Gentle, humbly crafted, lyrical, and deeply wise, Altar is Barbara Brown Taylor as she was meant to be, a pastor who understands that knowing God occurs in a place beyond theology.” (Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence)

“This book is the most practical but everyday mystical book I have read on spiritual practices.” (Kate Campbell, singer-songwriter)

“Elegant, wise, and insightful, this book is also sacramental: it mediates the life it describes.” (Marcus Borg, author of Jesus)

“An Altar in the World is about how faith can be both practical and sensuous.In Barbara Brown Taylor’s hands, the old division between heaven and earth is healed and both come alive. Your mind, your body and your soul will be well fed by this wonderful book.” (Nora Gallagher, author of Things Seen and Unseen and Changing Light)

“Taylor writes fluently, with an eye and ear for the striking image and memorable phrase. Many readers, especially the vast numbers of the “unchurched” but “spiritual,” will find support and useful counsel.” (Library Journal)

“[A] lovely book. One of the best-known preachers in the country offers equal amounts of wisdom and erudition spent longing for more meaning, more feeling, more connection.” (Booklist)

“Taylor’s spiritual reflections are original, bringing fresh air to her topics because her spirituality is steeped in everyday life while illuminated by the ancient Christian spiritual tradition.” (National Catholic Reporter)

“The author seems simply incapable of writing a bad book. . . . Taylor is a great gift to the Christian church. And this volume, which focuses on spiritual practices, simply adds to her growing reputation.” (Kansas City Star)

“Taylor is one of those rare people who truly can see the holy in everything. . . . Savor this book.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“She’s deliberately exploring the turf where our feet hit the floorboards each morning - and where the day takes us into the world. Even if you’re not a Christian, you’ll find a wise friend in Barbara’s book.” (Read the Spirit)

“An Altar in the World is a delight to the eyes, mind and heart, a book I will certainly return to again at a later time, if only to remind myself of the spirituality of everyday living.” (America Magazine)

“Taylor serves up beefy soul food.. . . Though she did not write the book to speak to the economic crash, those suffering from lost jobs, homes and status will find plenty to feed thought and faith.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“A marvelous book. Barbara Brown Taylor’s honesty is so fantastic, and she writes with such wit, that this book is a delight to read and a profound experience .” (ExploreFaith)

“Leaving Church settled it for me that Taylor, as thinker and stylist, ranks with the best. The new book confirms that. . . . This book is not a page-turner. It’s a page-lingerer. I wore out a highlighter marking passages I want to read again.” (Dallas Morning News)

“Without denigrating altars in churches, Brown helps us discover and honor all the ‘altars in the world’--the red Xs that mark the spot, but that we cannot see because we are standing on them. She does so with a depth that readers will appreciate and savor.” (—U.S. Catholic)

“…[H]er honest elegance... express[es] truths that throw open windows in our everyday lives–allowing fresh perspectives on life. You’ll finish her book with dozens of pages folded over or marked in some other fashion so you can find and re-read favorite lines again.” (Read the Spirit)

“Barbara Brown Taylor is a favorite among church members who struggle to connect the sacred and secular, the heavenly and the earthly. These readers appreciate the candor with which she writes about it.” (Raleigh News and Observer)

“Overall… if one can read Taylor’s insights reflectively, with an eye toward Scripture, Altar will serve as a refreshing reminder that the physical world is designed to help us experience the spiritual one.” (

“Barbara Brown Taylor penetrates the religious clutter. She comforts. She revives our spirits. With lovely words she finds ‘alters in our world.’” (The Congregationalist)

“While I don’t like long books, this one could have been 500 pages longer with no complaints from me.” (Christian Science Monitor)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061370479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061370472
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (286 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Barbara Brown Taylor's last book, An Altar in the World, was a New York Times bestseller that received the Silver Nautilus Award in 2012. Her first memoir, Leaving Church, received an Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association and won the Theologos Award for best general interest book of 2006. Taylor spent fifteen years in parish ministry before becoming the Butman Professor of Religion at Piedmont College, where she has taught world religions since 1998. She lives on a working farm in rural north Georgia with her husband Ed.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

215 of 217 people found the following review helpful By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest, professor of religion, and author of LEAVING CHURCH, a book that resonated with many of us, in her latest work, AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD, does what she does so well: she gives advice and counsel to those both inside and outside the church on how to become more human and have a richer spiritual life. She reminds us that we need not travel to the shrines of seers in foreign lands but rather that we cannot see the red X that will free us because we are standing on it. In 12 chapters the author covers vision, reference, the Sabbath, physical labor, vocation, prayer-- a different topic for each chapter. One of the things so endearing about Taylor's writing is that she is so brutally honest about herself, revealing details about her life that many people would never talk about: that she shakes hands like a man, that she may like Bombay Sapphire gin martinis too much, that she is a "rotten" godmother, for instance. The most surprising thing I learned about her is that Taylor considers herself an introvert. I would never have suspected that. In addition to her forthrightness, Taylor, an English major somewhere in her studies, always writes eloquently so it is easy to wallow in her words. She is just as much at home quoting Wendell Berry or Rumi as the Old Testament character Job. There are so many beautiful passages here chockfull of truths: her account of when she was seven, watching falling stars with her father from whom she learned reverence as well as her description of the first church she loved, in the Ohio countryside, where the pastor "was the first adult who looked me in the eyes and listened to what I said. He was the first to tuck God's pillow under my head." (You can tip your hat to that image as it is so beautiful!Read more ›
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83 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Diana Butler Bass, Ph.D. on February 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In recent years, Christians have become more aware that theirs is a faith based in practices--the things we do in the world for the sake of God's beauty, justice and love. In this book, Barbara Brown Taylor opens the language of practice to extend far beyond the walls of the church and directs us to the practices that frame everyday human experience. She finds the divine in all things and invites her readers to intentionally participate in the interplay of the sacred in daily life. In many ways, it is a contemporary version of Brother Lawrence's classic book, "Practicing the Presence of God." As such, Barbara Brown Taylor models how theological reflection is not an arcane or ivory tower exercise. Rather, thinking theologically about our bodies, the ground on which we walk, the laundry that we do, is a holy calling for all people. This is a lovely book, one well-suited for personal growth and for reading groups.
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61 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Bill Barto VINE VOICE on January 13, 2014
Format: Paperback
The author is a well-known Episcopal priest, teacher, and author. She was recognized in 1996 by Baylor University as one of the most effective preachers in the English-speaking world and received the Emory medal in 1998 for distinguished achievement in education. She is a remarkable story-teller and I have always enjoyed her sermons.

Her most recent writings have a very different feel to them and are more like collections of essays than the sermon collections of the past. Taylor wrote a memoir of her shift from parish ministry to teaching in a book entitled “Leaving Church,” and her latest work is “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.” These later works seem to target the “spiritual but not religious” segment of the reading public and are filled with the same skilled prose that marked her earlier writings.

“An Altar in the World” reviews a variety of spiritual practices with the laudable goal of showing the reader that “the treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company.” For the author, “there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on the earth.” She states, “If you have run out of breath yourself—or out of faith—then this book is for you.” Her hope for the book is that it will help the reader “recognize some of the altars in this world—ordinary looking places where human beings have met and may continue to meet up with the divine More that they sometimes call God.”

Taylor is very comfortable writing about themes in spirituality from a progressive viewpoint. In an interview given in 2000, she observed, “I am on the edge of Christianity, and I expect to get a letter telling me I’ve been kicked out any day.
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152 of 161 people found the following review helpful By Daniel B. Clendenin on May 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In her memoir called Leaving Church; A Memoir of Faith (2006), Barbara Brown Taylor told her story of how after ministering for nine years on the staff of a large Episcopal church in urban Atlanta, where she had lived half of her adult life, she moved to Clarkesville in northeast Georgia, a town of 1,500 people and two stoplights. The prospect of serving Grace-Calvary Episcopal with its tiny sanctuary that seated 85 people was a dream come true for her, or so she thought. Her passion and competence spelled success, and after five years the church had expanded to four Sunday services. In the process she nearly lost her soul, and so she resigned, left church, and in 1998 took an endowed chair of religion at nearby Piedmont College. Since then she has lived with her husband on a working farm, become a regular speaker of note on the Christian circuit, and continued to write.

For those who might wonder, Taylor might have left church but she has by no means left the faith, and in this book she self-identifies as a Christian. This is an important point because her newest book is not exactly or particularly Christian. This is not a criticism but a simple observation. One of her goals is to abolish the distinctions we make between church and world, sacred and secular, spirit and flesh, body and soul. Any place or thing can mediate the sacred, and so we can make an altar in the world as well as in the church. Taylor draws upon her Christian experiences and tradition, but she also incorporates her knowledge and expertise from having taught a world religions course at Piedmont College for ten years--the Buddhist Eight-Fold Path, the Muslim notion of pilgrimage, rabbinic wisdom from Judaism, or the Sufi mystic poet Rumi.
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