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Barbara Brown Taylor Builds 'An Altar in the World'

The former Episcopal priest helps readers pay attention to where God is dropping ladders in surprising places.

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, preacher and writer Barbara Brown Taylor's most recent book, uses a variety of spiritual—though not always distinctly Christian—stories to demonstrate the surprising ways the spiritual and physical worlds intersect.

Taylor's unconventional spirituality is partially rooted in her involvement with Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches before settling in for over 20 years as an Episcopal priest. From these experiences, Taylor has authored 12 books, becoming a noted voice on religion in the literary world. She currently teaches religion at Piedmont College in northeast Georgia and is an adjunct professor of spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary.

Altar bears some similarities to Taylor's 2007 memoir, Leaving Church, which recounts her decision to leave the priesthood for teaching and delineates between loving church and loving God. Like the former, Altar finds spiritual meaning not just in concrete beliefs but also in the realm of nature. Taylor recounts a road to God that included drawing close to the "ground of all being" and the "one heart beating inside all living things," phrases borrowed from Eastern philosophy and religion more than Christianity as such.

The title of her recent book draws from the story of Jacob's dream (Gen. 28:11-19), in which a ladder falls from heaven and imbues an ordinary location with sacred meaning. This leads Jacob to recognize the stretch of wilderness, rocks, and sand ...

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