The hardest part about preaching, for me, is learning to speak slowly. I have been told it is a bad idea to cram everything I have to say into one sermon because for heaven's sake what if I succeed?
Since I prefer to speak so quickly you can't absorb a word I say, this is not generally a problem.
After years of battling to slow down, I found the solution in the Pigeon Rat. I realized that if I couldn't pause naturally, I could say a word or two silently in my head to achieve the same thing... I'm not sure why I chose "Pigeon Rat" except that it was a running joke from my high school days, and it still makes me smile. Not a bad thing, when you’re trying to relax in a pulpit.
So, I was finally able to pause dramatically and say "Now, in this moment of (pause) sacred space..." because I was saying "Now in this moment of (pigeon rat) sacred space...". A miracle. Much better preaching.
"Wow, that class really worked... what happened?" congregants would ask me.
I did not tell them.
I did not tell anyone until this most recent class at Seminary, when we were studying voice and my prof asked me about the pause to connect with the audience and I shared my genius solution so that I could impress her.
Prof: WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HAVE BEEN WRITING "PIGEON RAT" ALL OVER YOUR SERMONS?"
Me: It's worked really well. I learned to do that in the advanced preaching class.
Prof: Bill told you to do that?
Me: Well, I learned it in his class. Not exactly from him. But he told me to pause. The pigeon-rat thing was my idea. But he endorsed it. Okay, endorsed might be the wrong word. Technically what he said was “You are going to say 'pigeon rat' in the middle of somebody's wedding vows some day".
Prof: Pigeon ratting and pausing are not the same thing.
In that class, we talked a lot about really connecting with your audience. Listening to them. I was not familiar with this idea because when I am preaching I am thinking stand-up-straight-speak-slower-lower-the-pitch-of-your-voice-smile-eye-contact-speak-slower-is-my-fly-done-up-speak-slower-pigeon-rat.
Prof: The pause is not just for your audience to catch up with you. It is for you to connect with them.
And whoa, she is right. A whole different world when you are having a conversation rather than performing a conversation. Not just for them, but for me.
As I get older, I spend less time meditating and thinking about enlightenment, and more time dicking around with my kids and staring into space with tea. Which, turns out, has been a very good thing.
As I get older, I live life less and less like it is a speech and more and more like it is a conversation.