An Episcopal priest without a parish, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about how that came to pass in Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. The next part of her journey is the subject of An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.
Why was your previous book controversial to some?
I had spent 20 years at the center of the Christian church as a parish minister. As I aged both in my faith and in my life, I become interested in things beyond that center, questioned some of the central doctrines of Christianity and looked into scriptures that didn't make it into the canon. I wanted to explore what felt to me like family secrets that parish ministers aren't supposed to talk about. I broke a silence that struck some people as indiscreet.
You said you're excited about this book. Why?
I'm excited because it's about real life in the world and about ways in which the sacred is very near—Islam says it's “as near as the pulse in our throat.” I hope this is a book people can read and say, “I knew it.”
Who inspires you?
My old influence, clearly, is Annie Dillard. Frederick Buechner, who is able to speak of the sacred. Garrison Keillor has had a huge effect on me. He can speak of soul matters without religious language. I always love to keep Alice Munro on the list for her incredible grasp of language.
How do you write?
I have never [before the last book] received a substantial royalty for my books. I used [the royalties from the last book] to build a writer's cottage—12'×12' in the woods that has no electricity and no plumbing. I've now got a solar panel so I can get some light when it's stormy, but that is like a Sabbath in space. Truly, it's a matter of a chair, a fire and a morning, and maybe a dog.
Has aging [she's 57] made a difference in your outlook?
How did you know? I do think that 50 is a milestone. I'm grateful to have reached 50 and with limited time left, there's not time to waste on things that don't matter and don't engage the pain in the world. There's no time left to pretend.
Do you have a new book in mind?
I do, but it's too good an idea to put out in print. It's a secret.
Do you practice what you preach?
I stand behind every chapter in this book. If I have not succeeded, I have failed well enough to have increased in wisdom.