The Common Good
February 2009

Seeing the Sacred

by Barbara Brown Taylor | February 2009

An excerpt from the book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.

No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggest that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.

Many years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to speak at his church in Alabama. “What do you want me to talk about?” I asked him.

“Come tell us what is saving your life now,” he answered. The answers I gave all those years ago are not the same answers I would give today—that is the beauty of the question—but the principle is the same. 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. In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life.

Whoever you are, you are human. Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it. So welcome to your own priesthood, practiced at the altar of your own life. The good news is that you have everything you need to begin.

Excerpted from An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor. Copyright 2009. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne.

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