Benvenuto Cellini, Performance in Preaching
Last evening’s outing to the opera was the most extraordinary treat. Three hours of Terry Gilliam (for the English National Opera) x Hector Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini flashed past, with exuberant mardi gras balloon figures, colourful tumblers and fire jugglers and acrobats who would fit right in a Cirque du Soliel troupe, Roman soldiers doing the can-can, and little illusion delights – Fieramosca falling into a “well”, characters switching places.
The Piranesi-inspired set and costumes were a crazy muddle of centuries and styles. It was hard not to wolf-whistle when Willard White’s somewhat lecherous camp Pope Clement VII dressed in Mikado grandeur appeared with ironic deus ex machina timing. Smooth onstage set changes in Act I were of West End musical quality, while the acting was a mash-up of classic opera and slapstick.
But a strange thing past training is. It resides in your so-called sub-conscious and emerges sometimes in the most strange ways: i was so nervous about having to lead the church in corporate prayer on Sunday that hurling lunch all over the music team was a real possibility (exacerbated no doubt by motion sickness from trying to write out the allocated 7 minutes on the coach back to London from an exciting but tiring weekend away). A brother had to patiently counsel me, calmly repeating that it was their pleasure to have me do so, and not to worry. Upon taking a microphone from the Rector however, a sudden calm descended to the point that i observed, 3 minutes in on the lectern egg-timer, that not only had i fallen asleep while talking, i’d deviated from my notes and…in fact, appeared to have started preaching (the horror!). Managed to steer self back, then scampered off as soon as possible.
You’d have thought that corporate prayer could not ever be seen as a performance. Unfortunately, in addition to the nice strangers who came up to say thank you for the moving/helpful time of prayer, there were two people who said they wanted to stand up and applaud afterwards. Even more unfortunately, i didn’t manage to control myself enough to not express shocked anger, which scared them away. Oops – my double bad.
The driving force for what we do must never be performance, nor must any act be perceived as drawing attention to self rather than God. Still, how much of what we do up in front of a body of believers should be influenced by rhetoric/oratory theory? How can we ensure that the message can be conveyed in an accurate and memorable manner? Paul’s letters suggest that his boast in his lack of eloquence does not equate to a total disregard for the use of rhetorical devices in the communication of gospel truths.