A waiter at the banquet of Holy Wisdom is how Dominican Sister Barbara Reid presents the role of preacher, which she says is open to all baptised Christians as well as those who exercise the formal ministry.
Enlarging on the Franciscan exhortation to ‘preach always, use words only when necessary’, this Grand Rapids, Michigan, Doctor of Biblical Studies fired the imagination of preachers throughout the country last month with images of a good waiter-cum-preacher who serves what God is cooking.
Dr Reid developed this metaphor into a banquet of Holy Wisdom and asked how a preacher was to give people something to eat in light of the present hungers in our world.
She prescribed a three-course meal in which the spirituality of the preacher is expounded in words and themes that the hearers understand through their own spiritual journey.
The first course is entitled ‘Be Amazed’. A good waiter ‘facilitates an unforgettable dining experience that satisfies physically, emotionally and spiritually’.
A good waiter will be intimately familiar with the menu knowing the qualities of each dish.
‘Expert waiters are also able to share these experiences with other diners, able to read their hungers and to know what dish will satisfy best.’
A preacher must be a deeply contemplative person, totally in love with Holy Mystery and all of divine creation and ready for the arduous demands of sharing that love with others over the long haul.
‘Whether in fast-food restaurants, internet cafes, or intimate dining rooms the preacher in love with Holy Wisdom hears and responds to her persistent invitation, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of my wine” (Prov 9:5).’
Attuning our ears to hear the invitation requires a sense of wonder, or of ‘radical amazement’, which refers to all reality rather than just a single element which we usually focus on.
‘Radical amazement transports us beyond ourselves and our preoccupations, rescues us from triviality and fuels hope—a contagious hope that ignites awe in the hearers of those preachers who abandon themselves to awe-inspiring grandeur and mystery.’
This amazement, says Dr Reid, leads us to ‘the very heart and mind of God’. As our understanding of the universe has increased with recent scientific developments, it is no longer sensible to think of God in the heavens.
‘Rather, God abides deep within, drawing us inward into love, and impelling us outward in mission in ever creative patterns of generative love.’
Drawing on the thinking of Abraham Heschel, she says this radical amazement must lead us to radical gratitude where nothing is taken for granted.
‘It would be a mistake to think that living in radical amazement means that preachers simply float along in a cloud of unknowing instead of doing the hard work of critically analysing the realities of our world and studying rigorously the scriptures and tradition. Awareness of what is happening in our world so that we hear the cries of suffering and feel grief at the damage to our planet is ‘the spring of all creative thinking and preaching’.
When Job is on the brink of despair, God speaks to him out of the uncontrollable chaos and directs him to let the awesome beauty of creation turn him away from his pain so he can be directed outward by beauty and awe toward the transformative power that is at the heart of the cosmos.
‘Such heart-stopping beauty can transform us in three ways:
• It focuses us outward so that we see that we and our troubles are not the centre of the universe.
• It creates sharpened attentiveness to injustices, opening us more fully to care for the world.
• It incites creativity.
Barbara Reid served up two more courses to her diner/audiences in New Zealand. She spoke of a second course of letting go … of false hungers, wishes and needs and of desires to overeat. In a third course, she introduced diners to the practice of resisting such poisons in their preaching as sexism and unforgiveness.
So as not to detract from the richness of the banquet of Holy Wisdom, we will bring you more from Barbara Reid next month.