Stop reading and start proclaiming. Douglas Leal.
Resource Publications, San Jose, California, 2006
ISBN 0-89390-630-1 US $23.95
Over the years I have read a range of materials written to train readers and to train the trainers of readers. The best of them emphasise both the importance of engaging with the different dimensions of the text and of paying attention to the practicalities of the work of proclaiming the text. Some of these have been very worthwhile, perhaps especially the now long out of print Communicating The Word Of God by John Wijngaards, (McCrimmons, 1978).
However for a practical and lively introduction to the ministry none seems to me to match Douglas Seal’s Stop reading and start proclaiming.
His book reads most engagingly. It is well written, well organised and packed with insight, pastoral wisdom and practical example which clearly illustrate the various points and clearly and easily draw the reader into an active exploration of the particular matters being discussed. Care has been taken in the presentation of the text to provoke the reader of the book from a relatively passive reading to a much more active engagement with what is presented. For example the ‘Take Note’, ‘Traps’, ‘Tricks of the Trade’ and ‘Trivia’ symbols effectively highlight sections. In addition each chapter ends with a summary section ‘’ ‘X’ important things to remember about…’: these are models of synthesis and clarity.
Probably no book can substitute for good personal tuition, but this book comes close and it certainly provides an effective, experiential process for those who are willing to reflect and to learn.
The further exceptional quality of this book is that it draws on the experience of an author who is an actor and director, and a liturgist. We are in the hands of someone with a breadth of perspective and a depth of understanding.
He emphasises the importance of the minister engaging with the ‘text’ to be proclaimed not ‘just’ because it is the word of God, but because this is text that needs to be performed, because this is the most effective way of ministering this word to the people of God, helping them to receive it and be nourished by it in all its fruitfulness and potential. Leal offers wise instruction about how to engage with different aspects of the text (its form for example asking is this narrative, didactic, exhortatory?; its structure recognising and making use of its parallelisms, repetitions, use of simile or paradox, for example).
He knows the importance of voice, and of using the voice to communicate (so there are helpful words on tempo, rhythm, pauses, volume, vocal energy and exercises on all of these, plus some fun ones for improving diction).
He recognises that it is not by voice alone that the ministers minister but also through their bodies from which the voice issues. So there attention is paid to such things as posture, eye-contact, even the proper use of gesture.
One especially valuable chapter is that entitled ‘Working on emotion’. If the mention of gesture in the previous paragraph sounded a warning bell in your mind, then quite possibly you will find this the most challenging chapter of the book. For myself I found it the most rewarding, and the one which more directly engaged me with the question of what it is that we ought to expect of our ministers of the word. I emerged from the chapter more convinced yet that it is not enough (!) that they engage with the biblical and liturgical meaning of the scripture texts set before them. Or at least it is not sufficient to do work which reveals meaning in the text as ‘object’, ‘out there’: work must also be done on where and how and why does this text seek to engage with us emotionally, and where and how and why does/might it engage with me and the community I am charged with ministering it to? There is no doubt that what Leal invites us to something significant and demanding. Some will reject what he suggests, but again, for myself, I found that he was putting into words many things which I realised I’d valued in the ministry of others, and even attempted for myself, but had never found the right words to describe.
I found myself very much in sympathy with the lessons he draws from his theatrical background. I’m sure others will be suspicious of them. This is a suspicion he anticipates and is careful to engage with. Certainly he never loses sight that what ever can be learnt from experience of the theatre, he is here dealing with something quite distinctive. He recognised the particular and sacred nature of the liturgy and of the exercise of ministry within it.
This is an excellent book. Do yourself a favour and read it. Do someone else a favour and recommend that they read it too.