Preparing to Perform
by Phil Ruge-Jones
Associate Professor Texas Lutheran University
An Ideal Week of Learning a Text
When I’m preparing a text for the following Sunday, I begin on Monday. I go to gotell.org and find the text in their lections section. I listen to an experienced storyteller tell the text by clicking on Audio Telling. Then I make a copy of the Story in Episodes that they provide. While I’m there I listen to the Audio Commentary which provides not only insight into the text, but also into the telling of it. I read over the story three times to myself out loud.
On Tuesday, I write out the story three times by hand following the pattern of the Story in Episodes that I downloaded. I speak it aloud as I am writing. This often gets me very close to knowing it by heart, depending on its length. I write down the most difficult parts on the back of a business card and put it in my pocket so that I can review it several times that day. I put a copy of the story on my car seat and run through it each time I get in my car or am stuck in traffic for the rest of the week.
On Thursday, I meditate on the text. Eyes closed I image the scene using all my senses. I try to make personal connections between the story and my own life. Often this work has already begun as I travel through the week carrying the text on my heart as I visit with others or read the newspaper.
On Friday, I try to tell it to any who is willing to listen, perhaps the neighboring pastor who is also learning the text for proclamation.
On Saturday, my sermon writes itself because of the way I have lived with the text all week.
On Sunday, I proclaim the word that has become a part of my life. If it is the first time introducing storytelling in a congregation, I invite them to watch me and take their eyes off any bulletin insert or Bible they might have. I may do the first time in the children’s sermon when people’s expectation for text-like accuracy is much lower.
This is the ideal week that never took place, but it shows the structure that might help us learn a text. You might want to work over two weeks or longer when first learning this discipline. If you are wondering if you should do this, the answer is yes! For me it is my most effective spiritual discipline, interpretive strategy, and liturgical practice!