Saturday, November 13, 2010

Meditative Preaching

Here is an excerpt from the praxis stage of my senior project. The context of my paper is guide for Methodist ministers in rural congregations to incorporate Centering Prayer into their churches. This is one of the first tactics I encourage fellow ministers to implement in preparing the way for deeper practices of contemplation.

Silence is a phenomenon that is predominately avoided at all costs in our technological culture. The radio and television industries refer to it as “dead air.” I have witnessed a friend of mine who is a radio program producer go into a frantic furry pushing buttons, twisting knobs and sliding controls as he struggled to get the music playing again during a period of “dead air.” Silence in our daily lives seems to make us very uncomfortable, and this psychological response may frustrate us greatly in our spiritual formation. While I was on a silent retreat in 2006, in Sewanee, Tennessee, I noticed that the priest who led our retreat intentionally interjected long pauses of silence throughout our daily Eucharistic services. Ironically, I was shocked on a silent retreat to witness silence in the “order” of corporate worship. I remember how profound the pauses were and how the timing accentuated my experience of the Sacrament. Thus, I agree with Kent Groff’s encouragement for pastors, priests, and worship leaders to intentionally weave extended pauses of silence into their worship services. This is one, non-offensive way to slowly increase an empirical awareness of the value of silence.

Henri Nouwen also describes the value of silence in preaching in his book The Way of the Heart. In this little book, he instructs preachers to consciously integrate meditative preaching as one way to “practice the ministry of silence.” He states that such preaching moves the attention of a listener away from the pulpit to the listener’s heart revealing an interior abode of silence. For example, if a preacher will read the phrase “The Lord is My Shepherd” and refrain from expounding upon it, and read it again after a slight pause and then allow for a longer pause, something transformational can take place. Nouwen argues that the Word will “lead a listener to the silent pastures where [he/she] can dwell in the loving presence of [God] in whose Name the preacher speaks.” Most rural congregations who use the lectionary do not sing a Psalm response, rather they responsively read it; a lector can easily add a minute of silence after a line the congregation echoes before reading her or his next line.


Paul Corrigan said...

Mark, this is creative and meaningful, and even useful for teaching. Thank you.

Fugitive Soul said...

I agree with Paul. It does seem that there should be a chance for one to "figure out what is happening" in worship as well. This is something I feel that silence makes possible. This is of course a common practice in Quaker worship, and is a draw for many people coming out of mainstream evangelicalism.
Another piece to this is the addition of chant. I suggest looking into Taize' and the Taize' community as you continue your senior project.

Mark Wills said...

Thanks Paul and FS. The project is coming along. I'll be testing the waters soon. I'm planning to offer a Centering Prayer session to my congregations before morning worship through Advent. We'll see how it goes. I have another post about Advent and CP/Contemplative practices that I'll try to through online here during my Thanksgiving Break.

Paul Corrigan said...

For some American Christians, terms like "centering prayer" and "lectio devina" offer an unnecessary boundary in the way of practicing deep, contemplative ways of praying--because they are "weird" sounding.

Cynthia Bourgault, I think, tells a story of reciting the Lord's prayer in Aramaic and one of her congregation saying that she was uncomfortable with it because it sounded "Islamic." The terms that come along with some contemplative practices are sometimes responded to like that.

So sometimes I like to use the phrases "praying (with) the scriptures" and "silent prayer" as clear terms to get at what we are doing without turning people off for nothing.

Anyway, I thought that this observation might be helpful for you (Mark) in your churches, if that wasn't already what you were planning on doing.

living stones said...

Mark, I love this reflection on "meditative preaching"! And I am excited about your doing this project for your M.Div. Wow! Very courageous, very "prophetic." And I loved that “Fugitive Soul” dialogued with you and us about it--Thank you, F.S.! This kind of "practice" is desperately needed by most American Christians, I think. But it is also often avoided and even attacked in our culture. I am grateful you're doing this, and I look forward to dialoguing with you about your work as it develops. I'm excited about it! And please know that we are praying with you in it.

living stones said...

Mark, I really appreciate how you make what we consider so important so practical by suggesting leaders “intentionally weave extended pauses of silence into their worship services.” Imagine: time to genuinely reflect and connect personally to God’s Word. Amen to “non-offensive way(s) to slowly increase an empirical awareness of the value of silence”!
--Thank you so much and blessings, Anna

Bill Lewis said...

Sounds like a wonderful project. May I offer an experience and insight that I had?

Once I was very surprised at a meeting of a very consertative church leaders who had spent a lot of time criticizing more contemplative approaches to life with God. The surprise came when someone led them in a scripture exercise where they read a passage, reflected on the meaing, prayed their reflection back to God, then sat waiting to receive whatever God chose to share. Read, reflect, respond and receive - hmmm sounded a lot like lectio divina to me.

Using different words to engage in a practice helps avoid prior conceptions. Later (days or weeks)the history of the practice can be taught and more traditional words to describe it can be easily inserted.

Mark Wills said...

Paul and Bill, we talked about this in my last seminar group. I don't think it is a problem in my context, but it could be for other similar ones like mine. I think I'm going to at least allude to it somehow.

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