Having finished Barbara Brown Taylor's reassuring and inspiring book, Leaving Church, I am now reading her sequel: An Altar in the World. In it she speaks of the mistake so many of us make -- thinking God lives only inside the walls of a church.
"As important as it is to mark the places where we meet God, I worry about what happens when we build a house for God. I am speaking... of the house of worship on the corner, where people of faith meet to say their prayers, because saying them together reminds them of who they are better than saying them alone.
This is good, and all good things cast shadows. Do we build God a house so we can choose when to go see God? Do we build God a house in lieu of having God stay at ours? Plus, what happens to the rest of the world when we build four walls -- even four gorgeous walls -- cap them with a steepled roof, and designate that the House of God? What happens to the riverbanks, the mountaintops, the deserts, and the trees? What happens to the people who never show up in our houses of God?"
I suspect that when she titled her book "An Altar in the World," Taylor wasn't necessarily thinking of building or finding actual altars in the world -- like this Mary icon, which hovered over us as we stood in line to buy tickets for Zydeco Night at the New Orleans Rock 'n' Bowl (a combination bowling alley, dance hall, restaurant and bar).
But I do believe she was advocating the practice of awareness, of presence; of being conscious that God is with us wherever we go. Watching the smiles on the faces of my brothers-in-law and their wives as they danced, I'd have to agree that's true: God IS everywhere -- even in a noisy bowling alley. If I didn't already suspect it, I could hear it in the music, and see it in their smiles, and in the lightness of their feet as they waltzed, spinning around the room.