The Red Couch: An Altar In The World Discussion



To learn more about An Altar in the World, please read the introductory post. Don’t forget to peruse The Nightstand, which contains resources for those wanting to read more on the topic.

There are books that feel like an instant and perfect fit in your hands.  You seek them out, and hold them in a firm grasp, in part because so many people you love and trust have told you to ingest their words.  You’re also drawn to the title, and a few vivid paragraphs from the introduction.  You remember the specific moment  you turned to the first page, and couldn’t put it down.  You vacillate between devouring the words almost immediately, and forcing yourself to go slowly, so as to prolong your first read through from cover to cover.

An Altar In The World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor is one of those books.

I first learned of it when reading a blog post by Sarah Bessey, in which she wrote out her answer to a question Taylor poses in the book’s introduction, What is saving your life right now?   {Be sure and also read Leigh Kramer’s introductory post, as she speaks to this question with beautiful vulnerability.}  

Taylor explains that each chapter in the book “is a tentative answer” to that question, an examination of a spiritual practice–“a certain exercise in being human that requires a body as well as a soul” {p.xviii}.

She defines altars in the world as “ordinary-looking places where human beings have met and may continue to meet up with the divine More that they sometimes call God” {p.xix}.

The theatrical stage has been an altar in my world–the place where I lose myself,  where I both create and am enveloped by other worldly art.   Its the place I’ve both sacrificed much to walk upon, and fought like hell to keep from becoming my idol.

I spent years as a professional actor, fighting the urge for my art to become my sole identity.  I spent too much time yearning to be regarded highly, instead of dwelling in God-given reverence.   I used my creativity to bandage my wounds of insecurity, instead of fleshing out the root of my fears with truth.

How I wish I’d read Barbara’s words even then, and used the physical practices she references with more intention–such as walking {groundedness},  carrying water {physical labor}, being present {prayer}, even getting lost {wilderness} and feeling pain {breakthrough}.  “The beauty of physical practices…is that you do not have to know what you are doing in order to begin.  You just begin, and the doing teaches you what you need to know.” {p.58}

I eventually found my way to that truth, but not without some hard knocks along the way.  As Taylor states so beautifully, “Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.” {p.15}

The beauty of my own life altars becoming vehicles for worship and communion with God is not lost on me.

An Altar In The World has helped give a new framework and terminology to my everyday spiritual practice as I grow in the things of God & the Holy Spirit.

Questions to Consider

  • Which of the spiritual practices from the book most resonated with you and why?
  • What are the unconventional or unexpected altars in your world?  What things draw you closer to God?
  • Is it a new concept for you to experience {sometimes seemingly mundane} ‘physical’ practices as spiritual? {such as walking, physical labor, etc?}
  • If you were to instigate some of the practices Taylor mentions in her book into your life, how might it change you?  How might you grow closer to God?  If you feel so led, share some examples from your personal experiences in the comments.
  • What is saving your life right now?


Our November book is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Come back Wednesday, November 5 for the introduction to the book. The discussion post will be Wednesday, November 26. For on-going discussion each month, join The Red Couch Facebook group.

* Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Sarah Caldwell
Sarah Caldwell is the Chief Creative Curator at All Manner of Inspiration, where she gathers everyday inspiration and encourages artists of all makes and models. A musical theatre performer and book lover, Sarah aspires to shed a bright light on the Creative Process that draws others to see their dreams more clearly. When she’s not auditioning, performing, or blogging, Sarah is seeking out ‘the perfect pen’, reading an ever-growing stack of books, and spending time with her friends and family. She’s currently chasing the next inspirational spark and her sweet pup Daphne in the heart of Fort Worth, Texas with her husband Frank.
Sarah Caldwell
Sarah Caldwell

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