Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Finding reasons to be a preacher

Thanks for Jim Gordon over at Living Wittily - one of the most consistently thought-provoking and spirit-lifting blogs around - I've started re-reading Frederick Buechner's Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale.

I'd forgotten just how good it is. Buechner's prose is sublime. His portrait of Pilate in the first chapter is breath-taking and his reflection of Pilate's question to Jesus - 'what is truth'? - dazzling and unsettling and just right.

Having the sielnce that greeted Pilate's question from the lips of Jesus, Buechner says: 'What is truth? Life is truth, the life of the world, your own life, and the life inside the world you are. The task of the preacher is to hold up life to us; by whatever gifts he or she has of imagination, eloquence, simple candour, to create images of life through which we can somehow see into the wordless truth of our lives. Before the Gospel is good news, it is simply news that that's the way it is, whatever day it is of whatever year.' (p17)

Suddenly I am aware of wanting to be a preacher again. Not a purveyor of finely crafted spiritual homilies but someone who allows the truth to take shape on my lips. Buechner's book is is his Beecher Lectures on preaching delivered at Yale in the mid-70s. And yet they could have been written yesterday, such is their prescience.

Of the preacher, he says, concluding his first chapter, 'So let him use words, but, in addition to using them to explain, expound, exhort, let him use them to evoke, to set us dreaming as well as thinking, to use words as at their most prophetic and truthful, the prophets used them to stir in us memories and longings and intuitions that we starve for without knowing that we starve. Let him use words which do not only try to give answers to the questions that we ask or ought to ask but which help us to hear the questions that we do not have words for asking and to hear the silence that those questions rise out of and the silence that is the answer to those questions.'

Yes please!

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