(After a longer-than-intended hiatus, I’m continuing my reflections on An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.)


In the second chapter of An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor explores the practice of paying attention: reverence. In paraphrasing philosopher Paul Woodruff, Taylor writes…

Reverence is the recognition of something greater than the self – something that is beyond human creation or control, that transcends full human understanding.

While reading the chapter, I could immediately identify in myself two irreverent tendencies: to regard myself too highly and to not regard others highly enough. According to Paul Woodruff…

To forget that you are only human, to think you can act like a god – this is the opposite of reverence.

Taylor suggests that one of the easiest ways to practice reverence is to simply sit down outside and pay attention to what is happening around you for twenty minutes. I wish I could say I’ve done this in the last couple months in my new surroundings in the Laurel Highlands. Alas – I cannot, although I’m eager to do so.

However, hosting at Laurelville has its own way of countering those irreverent tendencies I mentioned above. In Illinois, I was ‘doctor’ with a PhD in chemistry and ‘lay minister’ with important worship responsibilities at church. Now I’m the guy who plunges toilets and cleans up guest bedrooms when children – ahem – suffer from a stomach bug in the middle of the night. It is my job to practice reverence – to regard each person highly. In many ways, this is exactly why I came here. Hospitality and reverence are siblings.

And living here is making my whole family more reverent, I think. At the end of June, a gorgeous bird died after hitting the window of the camp office. I had no idea what kind of bird it was (which is somewhat unusual for me), and I knew my girls (especially Middle Daughter) would want to see it. I carefully carried it home, where I discovered it was hooded warbler. Ordinary Spouse practiced reverence by sketching it, and we had a short memorial service – thanking God for its life – before burying it in the back yard.

Hooded warbler

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father.

– Matthew 10.29

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