What it means to preach.

I walked around in a daze yesterday. Felt like I’d spent the night going rounds in an underground Fight Club. My tender bits ached. There was this sort of slosh of spent adrenaline, an acid bath, chewing on the strings of my muscles. I couldn’t write words, I kept misspelling or leaving out prefixes and suffixes.

It was from preaching.

Preaching, like all communication, is a psycho-somatic exercise. I have to be reminded of this because it’s easy to think that what’s going on is purely intellectual: the distillation and presentation of cognitive content. Even if we are committed to the idea that preaching should have an affective element and include a call to affective response, the physicality entailed by this commitment slips from view.

But the reality is, ‘Having a feeling’, just like ‘having an idea’ is a physical process. It means the flushing of hormones, secretion of tears, glands swelling and expelling, neurons spasming electrically. Blood-flow courses along the trail of the idea, careers around the brain to bathe its birth in chemical soup.

This internal alchemy combines with an external process. An ‘idea’ is also the harmonic resonance between people, mediated by language and memory and touch, posture, smell. No one ever thinks alone. Consciousness is a collective act.

And at the end of the process you can be left utterly physically exhausted.

Preaching is:

Scrabbling to grab hold of what a truth feels like.

Believing things for others.

Being what you say is out there.

Stretching out your arms so far you think your heart will break.

Losing your voice for joy at being the only one who gets to shout the beauty of the truth.

Sobbing uncontrollably.

Framed with words

And when you’ve done your best, when you’ve bled out on the pulpit, you’ve only done what was expected. No one should expect praise for this, much less anything short of this.

But maybe the Spirit will capture those puffs of breath and make them Words. And you and everyone there will thrill with the power of them. And at the end you will collapse into each others arms and worship God, full of gratitude that he spoke. Vibrating cellularly, organically, corporately, with his truth. And the Word of God will dwell richly among you (Col 3:16).

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