Spiritual Mentors: Barbara Brown Taylor

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What if the whole Bible is less a book of certainties than it is a book of encounters, in which a staggeringly long parade of people run into God, each other, life–and are never the same again?  I mean, what don’t people run into in the Bible?  Not just terrifying clouds and hair-raising voices but also crazy relatives, persistent infertility, armed enemies, and deep depression, along with life-saving strangers, miraculous children, food in the wilderness, and knee-wobbling love.

That  describes what I appreciate most about Barbara Brown Taylor: she never allows the Bible to become an idol. She reminds us that the Bible, indeed religion itself, is simply (however marvelously) a window through which the light shines in, and through which darkness at times may also be perceived.

I know the Bible is a special kind of book, but I find it as seductive as any other. If I am not careful, I can begin to mistake the words on the page for the reality they describe. I can begin to love the dried ink marks on the page more than I love the encounters that gave rise to them. If I am not careful, I can decide I am really much happier reading my Bible than I am entering into what God is doing in my own time and place, since shutting the book to go outside will involve the very great risk of taking part in stories that are still taking shape. Neither I nor anyone else knows how these stories will turn out since, at this point they involve more blood than ink. The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems to me, is to set the written world down in order to become living words in the world for God’s sake. For me, the willing conversion of ink back to blood is the full substance of faith.” (from ‘Leaving Church, A Memoir of Faith,’ Harper, 2006)

Barbara Brown Taylor was once named by Time Magazine as one of the best preachers in America. Then, after twenty years of being an Episcopal priest, she left the church for academia. She is still teaching, and is still a sought  after speaker. She now qualifies as one of the best religious writers in America.

She is a splendid crafter of words, able to turn the words about faith- a nebulous and abstract subject- into concrete images that give rise to enhanced understanding on the part of her readers and, often, real action in the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Because she was a great preacher, she is now a teacher that inspires prophetically, and illuminates her instruction with the always changing, but ever-constant Light she perceives shining through the world around her. She describes believing in Jesus as leading to believing in more-than-Jesus: believing leads to seeing Jesus in all kinds of places and in all kinds of people.

Hers are eyes always opening wider, and her preaching and teaching has enabled many, many people, inside and outside of The Way, to experience that new and more Light as well.

Brown has affected how I do ministry, and I hope it shows, and if it does, I want others to know her role in it: “Too often, I believe, preachers get into the business of giving answers instead of ushering people into the presence of God who may or may not answer. We [preachers] have somehow fallen into the trap of believing we are responsible for God’s silence- that if those under our care do not have a sense of God’s presence, then it is because we have failed them somehow- failed at Bible study, failed at prayer, failed at our preaching to bring the invisible God close enough to touch. When God falls silent, we too often compensate by talking more, which may be the very worst thing we can do.” (from ‘When God is Silent,’ Cowley, 1998.
Her books are all in print. Her newest book is ‘Learning to Walk in the Darkness,’ HarperOne, 2014)

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