Spiritual Practices for Preaching
The Forrest Gump Principle
I begin each day with a time of prayer and meditation, followed by a morning walk in the quiet moments just before sunrise. I always begin my walk with a gentle spoken affirmation: "This is the day that God has made, and I will rejoice and be glad in it!" This attitude frames my day -- even days in which I expect challenges -- as a day of opening to God's presence with a hopeful heart. God will be with me and that is worth celebrating, come what may. With the apostle Paul, I live by the counsel, "Rejoice, and again I say rejoice" even in the most difficult times. Then I add, "What surprises -- or possibilities -- will I experience today? Let me be open to them and respond with creativity to God's holy adventure." I am not asking for an "easy button" for the day, but an awareness of the blessings, wonders, and possibilities that emerge in each moment of life. Our God is a God of possibility and adventure, and I want to be part of God's holy adventure today!
I respond to the weekly lectionary readings in much the same way. Although I read the texts as a whole several weeks ahead, getting a sense of the flow of scriptures in a particular season, I also try to approach each Sunday's readings with what the Buddhists call, "the beginner's mind," that is, with a sense of openness and adventure as if I've never encountered them before. Of course, in the three-year cycle of readings, it's easy to forget, but I find entering with a sense of novelty and expectation one of the best ways to stay fresh in lectionary preaching.
Do you remember the class line from the movie, Forrest Gump? "My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
Well, that's how I approach each week's lectionary readings. I take a deep breath, relax in my writing chair (a Southwestern recliner with wooden arms just right for books on one side and coffee on the other!), look at the calendar that lists the readings for a particular week, and then plunge in. And, I'm always surprised. I come with anticipation, "What kind of chocolate (or scripture) will I pick -- a sweet and easy one, a challenging one, a bitter piece? Will it speak to what's going on in my life synchronously? Or, will I have to use my imagination? Which part of my brain will I be using primarily in approaching the texts -- the analytic, the imaginative, the intuitive, or the relational?" Preachers are, after all, artists and creators; we bring together a chaos of words and images in a way that addresses a diverse group of congregants. We use our color box -- words, tradition, the daily news, poetry, art, theology, scripture, dreams, and images -- to paint a picture of God, the world, grace, and challenge from our perspective to respond to the needs of a particular community living through a particular history.
Preaching truly is a holy adventure, and the Forrest Gump Principle allows you to claim your role as an artistic adventurer in companionship with the Great Adventurer and Artist of Life. Every adventurer knows that the journey is risky, but also rewarding, and always surprising. This is surely true of the adventure of preaching and the preacher's life.
So, open to surprise and adventure as you take your first look at this week's lectionary readings and let the process itself be adventurous. You are part of the same holy adventure as the persons about whom you are reading. And like them, you are discovering that God's love, mercies, and inspiration are "new every morning." Life is new every morning, and the ancient stories are born again with every reading. This is the day that God has made, a day of surprise and adventure -- so pick a chocolate from the box of theological surprises, and savor the journey!
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.