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Preaching Poetry

Preaching Poetry

There isn’t much
that makes me think that writing
in free form
short
sentences
deep indents
staggered
lines
of
thought
will actually make my sermons any better.
Because when it comes right
down
to
it
I’m not slamming
(not that I was ever good at that when I tried)
in the pulpit
any more than I was when
I fancied
myself a poet far
far
from any
pulpit.

Last week
I sketched
my sermon
in some sort
of weirdfreeform
that I hoped would
break it (you know, the Word)
free
if only for me.

And I smiled when I thought about standing
before these nice, church folks,
spitting out words
in a rhythm
of stops
and starts
starts and
stops, then walking away to sing
the hymn of the day.

Then I swiveled
my chair to face the computer
and I typed long sentences
that
flowed together and broke only when the margin butted in and made them
jump to the next line as if scared that God’s grace really couldn’t
flow like the Gospel promised.

Epiphany

Three months into my ministry I was still fighting this weekly battle. Saturday nights were torture. Sunday mornings were anxious. Sunday afternoons were naptime. Perhaps it was no coincidence that everything changed on Epiphany.

After lunch on January 6, 2003, I drove my husband, Shon, to the emergency room. It was nothing urgent, but we both knew something was not “right.” Between Christmas and Epiphany, Shon had experienced five episodes of sudden, momentary paralysis on the right side of his body. None of them lasted for more than ten or fifteen seconds. In fact, they were so quick; we wrote them off as a pinched nerve or something from his old high school football injuries. But then he lost control of his right side while driving home from work one day. Thus, on Epiphany, I insisted we find the source of the problem.

We knew it wasn’t a good sign when they took Shon ahead of the kid with the broken arm. After a round of tests and several hours of waiting, an exhausted doctor pulled back the curtain. He did not look up from the chart, but we could tell he was at the end of a very long shift and this was a visit he was not going to enjoy. “There’s something on the left side of your brain,” he said abruptly. Shon and I looked at one another to make sure we heard him correctly. It was definitely more than a pinched nerve.

More detailed diagnostics revealed “the thing” was a lemon-sized tumor sitting on Shon’s left motor cortex. In two days’ time, he underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor. Just six days after we had entered the ER, Shon walked out with his faculties intact, albeit a little lighter in the head. The diagnosis was oligoastrocytoma, a primary brain tumor, grade 2. What followed was a flurry of doctors’ appointments, non-stop tests and frequent seizures.

As we understood it, this was a slow-growing tumor that would likely come back, but not for some years to come. In the two years that followed, we were able to get the seizures under control and our lives settled into a somewhat normal routine. Shon would never be able to go back to work because of the seizures, but found enough to keep him busy at home and at church. He recovered so well that I only had to take a couple of Sundays off immediately after the surgery. Otherwise, I was back to work as usual, kind of.

It felt as if my foundation had been violently shaken but the building was still standing. I was trying to carry on in my ministry as if nothing had changed, and yet everything was different. The change really became apparent when my mom died unexpectedly of breast cancer just a few short months after Shon’s surgery. Suddenly, life took on a whole new sense of urgency. I dreaded Saturday nights, not just because of the sermon writing, but because dwelling so deeply in the Word kicked up so many painful memories and emotions, especially when the lectionary kept giving me barren women. Read more