When I was in college in Eugene, it was a long drive home to eastern Washington. About nine hours, though sometimes I have to admit, I made up time along the empty roads in the sagebrushed area just northeast of the Tri-cities. The chance of a cop along that back road up over the hill from Pasco to Washtucna was practically nil, and a couple of times I got my little yellow rotary-engine Mazda up to almost 100 mph, but mostly I was too chicken to speed that fast.
On that long drive between school and home, usually I was alone. The University of Oregon wasn't exactly the top choice for kids from my home town, not when there was a university right in town. But I needed to leave Pullman--needed to be a little more anonymous than I could be on a campus where my dad was on a first name basis with most of my professors. So I transferred, and got used to the lonely drive. These days, when our kids drive across the state, they have all their Ipods hooked up to the stereo system, and listen to their own personalized play lists as they drive. In the days when I was making all those trips alone, I was lucky to have a radio, and there were plenty of stretches when the only kind of stations I could pick up were what we not so affectionately called Country-Western. And I really couldn't stand those hardluck stories told in twang.
So what I usually did as I drove was talk to myself. Tell stories (and some of those were pretty hardluck themselves, though not sung with a drawl!), or, more frequently, preach. My little car was like a practice studio for preaching. I'd have my Springer Spaniel, Caspian, in my lap, and my Bible on the passenger seat. I'd open the Bible to wherever it fell, and read a passage before I started the trip. Then, as I drove along, I'd preach the passage from every angle. I remember working through the Lord's prayer one trip--probably several hours worth of sermons (many years later when I wrote a missions devotional on it, I thought longingly of those hours in the car, when I was full of passion and certainty). I preached passages from Isaiah, the 'minor' prophets, and even some of the most difficult passages in the Bible--the 'begats', and those long, long lists of rules in Leviticus.
I actually had my first opportunity to 'preach' through Young Life, at 15. I remember where I spoke (the youth center downtown) and what I talked about--Jesus being the Good shepherd, caring for us, feeding us, protecting us, knowing better than we do what we need. After that, I sometimes had occasion to speak to adults, also via YL--to people in towns where we were hoping to begin a club. I loved both the challenge of expressing who God is in ways that others could get, and the way it made me feel out of my element to try. Heart pounding, mind racing, I'd pray for the words that He promised in the gospels to give. And afterwards, sometimes even I was surprised by what had come out of my mouth.
So it was natural for me to want to practice as I drove. There's still something in me that loves to preach, loves helping people be drawn into the story that is God. I love the idea that He entrusts people even like me to accurately handle the Word of truth. I've been lucky enough to speak at retreats too, where earnest, hungry women have set apart their lives for a couple nights--their children, their spouses, their jobs, hometasks--to see what God might do among us. These are privileged moments for me. For all the months preparing (and yes, I do take a long time--, seeking a topic, praying, studying, writing, rehearsing), when we come together, it is God who is at work among us, even in my faltering words. And I'm always blessed, far more than I bless, by who the women are, what they share, what we become together.
For a long time, before he preached, our now retired pastor would pray, "Let any word of mine that is true find roots, but any word of mine that is not True, not of you, may it be blown away"-- and this has become my prayer when I speak (I actually called to ask him if I could use it before I did). I know that errors are possible--probable--when I speak. I am faulty and barely competent (just as we all are!). But I hope--I pray--that my faults will not get in the way of what He intends for those who listen. I pray that they hear Him, not me.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend from Chicago said she'd love to have me do a retreat for her church. I'd love it too. Just give me a pulpit and I'll show up. Shoot, just give me a long drive alone in a car, with an open Bible beside me. If you want to talk about things of the cosmos, things that last, that transform, that stretch us all, I'm all in. Anywhere, any time. I don't know if I have a calling to preach, the way some people understand it, but maybe close enough...
Thanks, by the way, for this 'pulpit' online. Until further notice, it'll do.