Today we have a guest review of one RevGal’s book by another RevGal!
Author’s note: Though a letter is certainly not a traditional format for a book review, it’s my chosen method for this one. In the preface of her new book, Preacher Breath, Kyndall Rothaus begins by inviting readers to think of her book as a conversation. “Write me a letter when you’re finished reading,” she suggests. So I did. Enjoy, and definitely check out Preacher Breath. -Traci Smith
It is such an honor to write this review of Preacher Breath, not only as a fellow clergywoman and author but also as your friend. I knew this book before she was born. (This book is obviously female!) I watched you create her in notebooks you carried around in a bag and then typed into your Macbook. I remember how you sat on the couch in my office during the editing phase and pondered every word, every comma, every rhythm. Nobody was more excited to see the final version than you were, but let me tell you, I was pretty darn excited to dive in and read her too.
I didn’t even get to the first chapter before the first tears fell. In the preface you write: “If you are a preacher, I certainly wouldn’t wish for you to copy what you find me doing here. It would be a great disservice to the world if we missed your voice because you covered it with imitations of another. My words will have failed you if they pressure rather than free you, if they make you feel inadequate rather than bolster your worthiness.” It’s just like you to be concerned about others (in this case, me!) in that way. It reminded me of our first writing group meeting together when I said something about feeling intimidated and wiggly and you said “How about we make a rule that we don’t do that?” Perhaps the greatest encouragement I could give others to read this book is that it’s like having a loving, non-judgmental, incredibly eloquent friend coach you into make your preaching sparkle.
I love the structure of your book and how it is designed around the metaphor of the human body. Chapters like “Heart: Purpose in Preaching” and “Veins: Emotion in Preaching” bring to life what all preachers know to be true: we bring our whole bodies to the work of preaching. The chapter I most looked forward to reading was chapter four “Skin: Vulnerability in Preaching.” I struggle with this, big time. How much of myself do I bring to the sermon? How to let myself be known and not get a Brene Brown style vulnerability hangover? More tears. This time from these words on page 58:
There is, I would say, a tasteful sensuality to vulnerability. We crave the skin-to-skin contact of being our realest selves and encountering the real in others. But we may be timid to initiate that kind of contact. We want others to show their colors, but we are reticent to go first for fear that we will be judged if we let our flabbier parts into the light where we can be seen.
Reading those words made me realize something: this book isn’t a book about preaching (only), it is a book about life. As you say in the preface “Everyone has preacher breath.” Many of the insights in this book are useful not only for the narrow task of preaching but also for the broader work of ministry, in general.
This book is not prescriptive. There are no checklists or methodologies, no helpful hints. There’s just you, telling stories, telling the truth. I love that about this book. It also drives me a little crazy. I want to know how to do it, exactly. Instead of telling me how, though, you smile and show me the way, as good friends do.
Rev. Traci Smith is pastor of Northwood Presbyterian Church and author of Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life (Chalice Press: 2014). Kyndall Rothaus is the author of Preacher Breath (Smith and Helwys: 2015). Connect with Kyndall at www.kyndallrae.com