In An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor promises to make you see the world in a new way—finding grace in even the smallest detail, helping to bring conscious awareness to your everyday. Learn how the practice of blessings will help you give thoughtful prayer to those you love and even some you will never meet.

It is forbidden to taste of the pleasures of this world without a blessing.—The Talmud

As someone who has been paid to pronounce blessings at weddings and funerals, at baptisms and house blessings, at soup kitchens and foxhunts—as well as at lots and lots of weekly worship services—I think it is a big mistake to perpetuate the illusion that only certain people can bless things. Not everyone is vulnerable to this illusion, I know. Plenty of people say grace over meals in their own homes, asking God to bless the food they are about to receive from the divine bounty. A number more bless their children at bedtime, asking God to bring those children safely through the night. Where I live, you can sneeze in line at the post office and receive half a dozen blessings from people you do not even know.

Yet there remain a great many people who excuse themselves when asked to pronounce a formal blessing. They are not qualified, they say. They are not good with words. They would rather jump off a high diving board than try to say something holy in front of a bunch of other people. My guess is that even if you asked them to bless something in private—thereby separating the fear of public speaking from the fear of pronouncing a blessing—they would still demur. If you are one of those people, then only you know why. All I can tell you is how much the world needs you to reconsider.

I think that the best way to discover what pronouncing blessings is all about is to pronounce a few. The practice itself will teach you what you need to know.

Start with anything you like. Even a stick lying on the ground will do. The first thing to do is to pay attention to it. Did you make the stick? No, you did not. The stick has its own story. If you have the time to figure out what kind of tree it came from, that would be a start to showing the stick some respect. It is only "a stick" in the same way that you are "a human," after all. There is more to both of you than that. Is it on the ground because it is old or because it suffered mishap? Has it been lying there for a long time or did it just land? Is it fat enough for you to see its growth rings?

The more aware you become, the more blessings you will find
Reprinted from An Altar in the World by permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


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