An Altar in the World that I had ordered from the Anglican Resource Centre at her workshop a few weeks ago. The shipment was delayed for various reasons, but in a way I’m not sorry. It arrived on the eve of Transfiguration, and it really has transfigured me.
‘Human beings may divide things into as many piles as we wish – separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognise the distinctions we make between the two. Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.’ (p.15) She’s talking about recognising the wonder and “God-breathed-ness” of everything that is – seeing the fingerprints of God everywhere.
I went for a walk at lunchtime and suddenly began to understand: each person I saw was like a little universe walking around, with their own infinite possibilities, their love, their loss, all of which was cradled and lit by the warm golden light and chased by shadows. The wind, surprisingly warm for late winter, twinkled and teased my hair, twirling it around my face, and the pigeons came and sat right next to me, trying to convince me that they needed my lunch more than I did. The light picked up that shimmer of the pigeons’ feathers, all the glints of pink and green and golden-blue. God made this. It is singing his song. It is imprinted with the touch of God’s hands, breathed on by God’s Spirit. It is holy – and all I had to do was pay attention.
Barbara Brown Taylor encourages us to pay attention to the world around us: to allow the small things to show us God’s grandeur, to build “altars in the world” and praise God wherever we are in whatever circumstances. She celebrates simple things like eating, and drinking, walking, living, running, breathing, noticing. Where is God’s finger pointing today? It is a reminder to me: Pay attention!
And it's not just when I'm having a good day either. Looking at the patterns of the naked tree branches against the sky reminds me that even when I feel naked and shivering, when I'm bending under the blast of a screaming southerly wind, everywhere I have been and experienced has made me strong - like the rings of the tree, it doesn't show but it's there. I just have to notice.