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Preaching Prompts: Spend It All

When I was learning to preach, I kept a file for illustrations. It was filled with random clippings of things I found in newspapers or magazines and note cards on which I had scribbled stories or quotations I discovered in books or films. As technology evolved, I used the computer word processor to store sermon items or ideas on a floppy disk. I tried in vain to label them topically with what we now call hashtags. Inevitably, I would rummage through the files to find inspiration only to realize that whatever struck me about these saved bits at the time no longer seemed fresh.

A passage from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life helped me understand why. The process of sermon preparation, like the construction of a poem or the writing of a book, is an act of faith that trusts the Revealer to show us what we need when we need it. It’s up to us to cultivate an open heart, an attentive mind, and a receptive spirit to the givenness of a pulsing creation and the ever-readiness of showy reality that surrounds us at all times and offers itself to us when we least expect it.

Once we become aware of something that comes to us, we should use it as soon as possible. Spend it all. Don’t try to save it for later. When you spend it now, you trust that more will come when you need it. As Hopkins put it in one of my favorite lines of verse: There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.

The SALT Project laid it out in poetic form. Enjoy, then spread the joy quickly.

One of the few things I knowabout writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it,all, right away, every time. 

Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. 

The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. 

Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. 

Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive.

Anything you do not givefreely and abundantly becomes lost to you. 

You open your safe and find ashes.

~ George A. Mason

27 April 2024

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