Preaching through a glass darkly
In my first church there was a high pulpit built into the front of the choir stalls with an organ above and behind the preacher. This meant that the organ was equipped with a kind of ‘rear-view’ mirror, so that the organist could see what the preacher was up to. In the next church there was a mirror just by the door of the vestry, so the preacher could snatch a last glimpse of him or herself before going out to face the throng. In my current church there is no room for a mirror in the lectern which serves as a pulpit, but I try to use one anyway.
Mine is a two-way mirror. In it the congregation can see both themselves reflected and, more faintly, the preacher himself. They need to see the preacher because we are hard-wired to engage with each other not only through voice but face and gesture too. They need to see themselves in order to know that this is a message which connects with their undulating lives.
Meanwhile, I look through the mirror from the other side. I see them clearly. I see the lines of worry, or age, etched on their faces. I must see these things if I am to serve them. Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of the preacher too. Is he being honest, I wonder? Is he being true to the voice of God as heard before scripture, and the voice of the spirit in his heart right now?
Preaching is in some senses an act of exposure. In it not only the preacher’s words, but the preacher’s life are laid bare to the congregation. Then again, it is an act of exposure for the listeners too. An expectant listener stands to do much more than hear – she or he stands to be changed in this preaching moment.
Superstitious people believe that a broken mirror augurs ill – seven years bad luck. I am not a superstitious preacher, but I shall try to keep this mirror intact – since I believe it serves the congregation and the preacher well.