Sunday, September 16, 2007

The preacher's jar of words

This is the story of two preachers. One preacher was older than the other by several years. Both were well-respected around the country, and many people would travel great distances to hear them speak. Their ability to communicate spiritual truth was legendary. And there was a deep abiding respect between the two.

One week the two were invited to talk about their work and to preach for a group of preachers. The older preacher went first. He spoke words that reached into the very hearts of his listeners and touched them in ways that evoked more than mere ascent, a sort of benevolent intrusion, he would say. When he spoke, it was as if he knew each one personally, knew exactly what image was needed to bring heart, gut, mind, and memory into perfect agreement, allowing the words to soothe and stir and touch them in ways they never thought possible. Many said it was the best sermon they ever heard. No one argued with them.

The next day the older preacher was asked to introduce the younger preacher. They sat next to each other on the chancel. His small stature seemed to shrink even more next to her tall, slender frame. He rose from his seat, stepped up to the podium, and gazed at the crowd with a pensive look. When he spoke, he said, "On my back porch sits a jar. It's a mason jar. I put words in that jar, words that I will need later, words that I discover as I go about my day."

The auditorium was captured in hushed attention. The afternoon sun poured through the stain-glassed dome above, adding a hazy light to the already faded colors in the sanctuary. People sat quietly in time-bleached, velour-covered seats, green like the color of moss on a tree trunk, some wearing the stains of tiny drops of wine. One move and the decades old hinges of the seats creaked like rusty gates, but no one noticed if anyone moved.

In his self-described piccolo voice, the man continued. "One word," he said, "sounds like a 'honk' as it flies over. Another smells like a buffalo's breath. And one is like the silvery gleam that springs from the water when the sun hits a trout as it swims in the river." One by one he described the words in his jar, his words painting pictures and evoking memories for all who would hear.

"I am nearing the time when I will no longer have any use for these words," he said. "When that day comes, I will walk over the mountain to Barbara's house." He glanced back at the younger preacher, a smile barely inching from the corner of his mouth. "I'll leave the jar on her porch. I won't knock on the door because she probably won't answer even if she's there, so I'll just put the jar down for her. She'll know what to do with the words. She's the only one I trust to use them well."

The room grew ever more still. Listeners glanced at each other but none dared speak. The words he spoke carried such weight and significance that each knew she'd been witness to an intimate exchange. The older preacher stepped from the podium and made his way toward the chancel steps. The younger preacher sat with her head down, unable to move. The older preacher descended the few stairs from the chancel and stopped. The younger preacher finally stood. And as she stepped toward the podium, she turned to face him, and with the same smile shyly peeking from his lips, he bowed to her, and she bowed to him.

16 comments:

PPB said...

wow. what a moment.

Katherine E. said...

Linda, is this Fred Craddock and Barbara Brown Taylor?

Doesn't matter. You tell the story so well...I couldn't wait to get to the end. Your writing is as good as theirs--whoever they are!

Linda said...

Katherine- Yes. It was Fred Craddock and BBT. They were the key-noters for the Stacey Workshop at Phillips this past week. This moment between them brought tears to my eyes. It was, as was so much of the weekend, absolutely splendid!

Kathryn said...

Utterly beautiful.
Thank you

Preacher Mom said...

I have chills just reading this. What a moment it must have been if you were there in person. Thank you for sharing it.

SpookyRach said...

*chills*

Yankee T said...

So beautifully written.

cheesehead said...

Love that man.

Thanks for allowing us to see this.

concretegodmother said...

OMG, wow! Powerful! Thanks for writing this up so exquisitely.

DogBlogger said...

Wow. Thanks for writing this.

Sally said...

Just wonderful! Thank you for recording this.

Rev Kim said...

I really wanted to go to this...alas, other commitments.

When I saw him at FOH, he delivered the best sermon I've ever heard. I love them both. I know we're not supposed to have idols, but...

What a beautiful moment. Thank your for sharing this with us.

Diane said...

wow, so beautiful.

Marie said...

Wow. So well written. Goosebumps here too. And a few tears.

milf said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kelly Gindlesberger said...

I am reading this in the month after Fred Craddock's passing. I was in the audience that day in 2007, listening in silence as the torch was passed. We all recognized it the moment it happened and I am pretty sure there was not a dry eye in the house.

Barbara was as stunned as were we and was momentarily, ironically, at a loss for words.

Linda captured this moment beautifully; I will remember it as long as I live.