I’m pulling quotes from two of my favorite people, bell hooks and Dr. Gardner Calvin Taylor. I consider preaching (or pastoring) and writing to be my two main works. So, as I reflect on my labor, I offer you their thoughts. First, bell hooks.
bell hooks is a writer, teacher, and lecturer, and her areas of strength and interest are the politics of race, class, and gender, sexuality and human relationships, and writing. I suppose there are many others. I’m drawing this quote from her book about writing, Remembered Rapture, a book every writer should have. In this quote, professor hooks is talking about writing inside and despite the structures and strictures of the academy in the chapter, “dancing with words.” You can see several synopses of her books at South End Press.
Writing to fulfill professional career expectations is not the same as writing that emerges as the fulfillment of a yearning to work with words when there is no clear benefit or reward, when it is the experience of writing that matters. When writing is a desired and accepted calling, the writer is devoted, constant, and committed in a manner that is akin to monastic spiritual practice. I am driven to write, compelled by a constant longing to choreograph, to bring words together in patterns and configurations that move the spirit. As a writer, I seek that moment of ecstasy when I am dancing with words, moving in a circle of love so complete that like the mystical dervish who dances to be one with the Divine, I move toward the infinite. That fulfillment can be realized whether I write poetry, a play, fiction, or critical essays.
Dr. Taylor served as Pastor of Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, NY for 42 years before retiring twenty years ago. His exemplary preaching style and content is instructive, but his words about the role and task for preachers is what I’m pulling from in this post. The quote is from the Yale University Lyman Beecher Lecture Series in 1976. The particular lecture is “Preaching the Whole Counsel of God.” Dr. Taylor is speaking from a passage in the book of Ezekiel where the watchman’s role is discussed.
It is the watchman’s job to watch. Such a person is expected to scan the hills and to peer toward the valleys with the eye straining to see the rim of the horizon. On who is chosen to watch is freed from the regular occupational responsibilities of those who select him or her to be watchman…It is the watchman’s job to see, since for this cause came he or she to the appointed lookout tower. The watchman has been given the vantage point of an elevated position in order to see. The watchman has, likewise, no right to claim indifference or indolence or sleepiness, for he or she is spared many of the irksome annoyances of the workaday world. The sentry has no right to claim poor vision, since the capacity to see, to see clearly and accurately, is one of the principal requirements of a watchman…There is little place for ranting by the preacher, but there is a very large place indeed for urgency and for an earnest, honest passion. The stakes are high!
These are two people, among too many others, who anchor me in my work. If you like, tell us who anchors you in yours?