Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Mysticism of Preaching

The mystics of the world often share much in common--they are in some ways the true meeting grounds for the world faiths. I admire their exploration of the mystical landscape, but have typically not thought of myself as mystic. Hymn verses like "mystic sweet communion" are fun to sing, but not existentially relevant.

However, today I was reminded, as I return to the task of sermon preparation after a two week break for paternity leave, that much of my sermon preparations are of the mystical sort. Without going into the neuroscience or phenomenology of mysticism too deeply, I'm just going to note a few ways that preparing to preach feels like my closest approximation of the mystical and the numinous.

1) The Wow Factor: At least a couple of times per week, as I am sitting with and studying Scripture in preparation to preach on it, I just stop, think about it, and exclaim, "Wow. Wow. Wow." The Word is not amazing in its depth and clarity, simplicity and complexity, wonder and mundanity, that all I can say is, "Wow." Often when I'm driving or walking to church Sunday morning, the sermon pregnant in my thoughts and hearts, I think to myself, "I wish everyone who hears this sermon can feel and think what I'm feeling and thinking right now, which is much less about individual points or content of what I will preach, but the sheer awesomeness of the text, and God in the text."

2) The Where-did-it-come-from Factor: It never happens that I don't have a sermon. Often times I have two, three, or even four sermons, that could be preached on a given text. If you take into account all three (four) of the lectionary texts, if I spend time studying them, there could be even more sermons ready at hand. Do I do this? No way. I just till and water the field, but it is God who gives the growth.

3) The Where-is-this-coming-from Factor: This is similar to but different from point 2. This is the time when parts of the sermon simply come to me while I'm preaching the sermon, not prior to. Often some of the best parts of a sermon come right in the moment, and I have no idea where they came from. Certainly, I did my best studying and reading and praying all week, but in the moment, it's like wave-upon-wave of gift.

4) The Wonder Factor: I might also call this the body factor, because it has to do with the overall feeling preparing to preach can have. This doesn't happen every week, but often it is just this warm feeling that hits me in the lower part of my brain, relaxes my shoulder, deepens and quickens my breath. It is the closest I have ever come to what some describe as that "God picked me up and hugged me" feeling they have had that is their own personal mystical experience.

5) The Wacky Factor: I'm most likely to have these discoveries and feeling if I attend to what is most strange, weird, or wacky in the text. I also think that when you seek the mystical you won't find it, but when you are busily engaged in other things, it will sneak up on you. God is like that.

On a final note, for the best treatment of a mystical experience in a novel that I have ever read, consider David Rhode's spectacular novel Driftless, set in the driftless zone of southwest Wisconsin. You won't be disappointed.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you on the wows! I haven't had a lot of experiences where something has come to me while I was preaching, except in our small chapel service on Wednesday. possibly stifling the spirit because of trying to keep within the time constraints when there are services right on top of each other?

    just wondering.

    Now I need to look up David Rhode's novel.