Sunday, June 01, 2008

Homily Frustration

Many Sundays, I want to share with you all some reflections from our rector's homily. But she refuses to share copies of the homily, because – as she puts it – the homily is a prayer prayed by preacher and congregation together. It's about the speaking and the listening. And, she explains, the text from which she preaches isn't "polished" enough for distribution.

I think I can understand that. Though it frustrates me, too.

Her sermons are so dense and poetic that I wish I had a printed copy to ponder through the week. But that is not to be, it seems.

So today I took pen and notepad into church with me. I thought surely I could capture some of the highlights. And I thought I did, at the time. But now I look at my notes, and I realize they just don't hang together. They don't begin to convey the message I heard this morning.

Dangitall! We have a really fine preacher and priest. You'll just have to take my word for it that she knocked my socks off yet again today. More to the point, she touched my soul … as she so often does.

But I wish I had something more than my scribbled notes to refer back to.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know just how you feel! I'd never thought of it the way your priest put it, but it makes a lot of sense. Homilies are organic in a way. So many factors involved in the moment they're spoken - the priest, the congregation, the Holy Spirit's unrehearsed nudges, the overall general atmosphere of the day. I don't think that can be reproduced with a simple typed text.

However, I'd love it if you'd share just one thing that touched and moved you. What feeling it left you with or personal insights or ponderings. I think that will go a lot farther in sharing with me her homily than her actual written words!


6/02/2008 5:55 AM  
Blogger Tandaina- said...

Been there. Any chance the sermon is recorded and you or other tech savy person could turn it into a podcast?

6/02/2008 6:11 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

As a priest I doubt my sermons are every very polished. But I started providing the text anyway to the few who desired them. Sure the text does not reflect what was actually said, but hopefully it still provides people food for thought. I find that those who have to miss a Sunday were the ones who appreciated it most (besides my mom). I also purchased a very reasonable hand recorder and now podcast them as well. Perhaps your priest will consider that.


6/02/2008 2:20 PM  
Blogger FranIAm said...

That sounds like my church. Padre does not write too much down and he preaches beautifully and from his heart.

I have yet to take notes and I always leave feeling like I am trying to recall snippets of a really important dream.

Some pieces I have, some...

6/02/2008 2:57 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

Some of the churches I serve record the sermons and post them online for those who can 't be there - that works for those of us who don't use a text to read. Podcasts - that is the answer!

6/02/2008 4:58 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

When I was preaching, and dinnosaurs roamed the earth, I never wrote out what I was going to say. I was taught back in the 1960's that reading a written text sounds like reading a written text. I wrote an outline, and then a set of 3 x 5 cards with any quotations I thought I might need. That was a standard technique taught NCAA debate teams back then.

So, if someone had asked for a copy, I literally could not have given them one. The only time I did a 'text,' I recall the difficulty I had creating it . It was for the discernment committee when I was becoming a postulant. It took longer than the delivery!

So I sympathize with the rector. I do not, praise God, preach anymore. Chicago dismissed me from postulancy two bishops ago.

But while I do think the lady has a point some very superior preachers, Rev. Elizabeth, Rev. Susan, the mad one among them all do write them out. They are simply better at it than I ever could be.

It is hard though possible to simply note take the sermon like it was a lecture. I should thank that would be acceptible, while a tape recorder without permission would not be.


6/02/2008 5:19 PM  
Blogger Cranmer49 said...

How unfortunate, Lisa. To me, it's like offering a little taste of some wonderful food but not allowing the diners to savor it. Personally, I don't think the homily/sermon is a prayer prayed by preacher and congregation. Does the congregation know it's praying when she's preaching?

Frankly, I think she's being kind of selfish. Why will she not offer it to those who request it? Or let it go to those who are shut in or couldn't be at church? Podcasting is certainly a wonderful solution - it doesn't depend on whether she writes the sermon or preaches sans script.

And if you want to retain her points and have to take notes to do that, then you're distracted from the wholeness of the sermon. There is just no good reason to withhold the words, the thoughts, the reflections of the preacher. It's kind of like taking notes at a lecture: while you're writing one thing, you're missing another.

We all hear and learn and even pray differently. I think it's the preacher's responsibility to make her sermons as accessible as possible. It doesn't matter if the text isn't "polished." It's really not about her putting out a perfect piece of work. It's about helping the pewsitters reflect on her sermon through the week.

One more thing about prayer -- we are a people of the Prayer Book. We read our prayers.Over and over and over again. That's how we take them into our soul and make them ours.

You certainly pushed one of my buttons with this!

6/02/2008 7:56 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I need to start by relating what one member of our search committee said when she visited our now-rector and heard her preach: "It was like hearing Maya Angelou."

I can't grab any snippet of a sermon, and say "This inspired me." It's the whole package, the movement, the words and cadences.

How to explain this? When our rector preaches, she moves my soul in ways that I often cannot express in my narrative. Think about reading a Donne poem. Yeah, I could paraphrase its theme or "point." But that's nothing at all like reading or hearing the poem, sinking into it, dwelling in it.

So … (in response to Anonymous' request) … let me try to say what I heard/got from the sermon.

Shariya+ typically engages all four texts. We never know which she will dwell upon. Sunday, she used one verse of the Psalm as the gathering text: "Into your hands I commend my spirit." (Ps. 31:5) She reminded us of how often that verse is used in our liturgies. She reminded us that this is the "last word of Christ." And also the last word of the martyr Stephen (as recounted in Acts), and also the last word of Jerome (in the 5th century), as well as Martin Luther and John Knox. She wove all the texts together to make the point that we have opportunity, in this long season of Pentecost (or "ordinary time") to choose how we will order our living, our loving. And eventually our dying.

My takeaways:
1. She made me a bit less impatient with this Long Green Season.
2. She challenged me to think about whether/how I am "surrendering my spirit" to God's in all the little ways in the little moments of my life.

My pitiful summary here is another reason I wish I had a text upon which to reflect. Hearing her sermons is like hearing good poetry.

I think I've utterly failed in answering your request.

6/02/2008 8:16 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Several of you have suggested podcats. No, we don't have that capability in our parish.

But I think it's a bit deeper. I don't understand our rector's view, and I'm not sure I'm articulating it. But I think she would say that, just as you can't transsubtiate wine via remote control, so you cannot preach (or read a sermon) from a distance.

Cranmer49 asked: Does the congregation know it's praying when she's preaching? I'm not sure we all do, but this has been discussed in Adult Forum, so we know what she's doing and why.

Yes, that view frustrates me. No, I don't agree with it.

These sermons deserve more readings/hearings. Yes, I'm a bit ticked that she's not giving us a mechanism to do that. And, Cranmer49, you're exactly right: When I tried to make some notes yesterday, I found it getting in the way.

In fact, that's part of my frustration. The sermons are dense and moving and pregnant with reflections. They warrant more reflection.

It's not that she lacks a written text; she has it. And if she or the vestry wanted, they could surely find a way to make a recording. But that's not going to happen. Thus, my title for this thread: "Homily Frustration."

6/02/2008 8:38 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

I think I understand your rector - as it is very much in the moment sort of thing -- for the gathered community --- it is not about selfishness - it is about some sort of energy and mystical moment that is occurring (at least for me and others have said so too) and cannot be captured on paper. I usually have notes and a direction that I could share with you - but hearing and being there is so much different from the one dimensionality of a text.

6/04/2008 9:35 AM  
Blogger Cranmer49 said...

I don't think it's ever possible to capture the moments of the Holy Spirit or the mysticism that we experience in our worship services. That's not what this is about. Nor is that the only thing sermons are about. If someone wants to continue to reflect on the sermon or wasn't present and would like to at least read the sermon, who are we to dismiss those needs? Sermons touch people at so many different levels -- why restrict the experience to what the preacher thinks should be the only experience? It's a kind of my way or no way. That's what I consider to be selfishness. I've experienced it in my own parishes when associates have balked at sharing their sermon scripts. It's really not about them and once they figure that out, then the sharing begins. It's about meeting the varied spiritual and faith needs of folks at so many different places on their journeys.

6/04/2008 1:53 PM  
Blogger Caminante said...

"I usually have notes and a direction that I could share with you - but hearing and being there is so much different from the one dimensionality of a text."

Then there is the retired priest who overnight went deaf. Going to church was agonising for him until the rector (who normally didn't write out his sermons) started providing him with a written text. It is true that a written text cannot ever capture the laughs or sighs or nuances or adlibs but I always have one on hand because I believe that if someone's heart causes them to wander off somewhere in the middle of the sermon and they want to find out what they missed while they were doing their heart work, they should at least have half a chance to find out if it was worth it ;)

I don't read my sermons but as I am not a morning person I would never trust myself to stay on track with just a 3x5 index card.

6/04/2008 3:01 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I'm really grateful for all the comments here, and grateful that you've made me think a bit more about this.

Yes, I recognize that the written text would not recapture the sense I had as I sat there with my parish and heard the sermon. But it would help. It would help me get back to that "Spirit place" that moved me during the actual sermon.

Here's the thing: Quite often, listening to the sermon and letting myself be carried into Spirit-space, I am often transported into a "place" where I'm not exactly thinking in linear ways.

I dunno whether I'm describing that.

I do know I'm grateful to you who have shared how you speak and deliver them.

6/05/2008 7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the priest is amenable, and there is the capacity to record and distribute, a digital MP3 could be made of the sermons. Many preachers put their MP3 sermons on websites for download, and more will dump the MP3 onto a CD on request. A digital recorder hooked up to a microphone, a computer, and a person willing to obtain and distribute the recordings are needed.


6/05/2008 9:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I know that an MP3 recording is possible, NancyP. But read all the earlier comments above.

6/05/2008 10:20 PM  

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