Silencing Self-Voice

Reading Time: 2 mins

In preaching, auditors are informed and instructed on hearing the voice of the Other, not themselves or contemporary resonances.

Preaching despoils auditors from hearing their own voice. Preaching is about hearing the voice of one, Jesus the Son. In fact, preaching should be approached as the craft of distinguishing Christ’s voice from self-talk and voices, be they never so affirming or commanding. In preaching, auditors are informed and instructed on hearing the voice of the Other, not themselves or contemporary resonances. This happens when preachers use primary speech and directly address auditors with Christ’s own message, as those commissioned by Christ to personally deliver His message. Scripture contains and frames His cruciform message.

I have written elsewhere that the message and the messenger should not be divorced by technological devices; preacher here, digital screen there. Such forums create competing environs for attention. Parishioner’s heads find themselves on a swivel, ever enticed by visual stimuli. Voices, however, have but one location. That location should terminate in the vocalist (in this case the preacher) who is elsewhere from the auditor, that is, existing outside the auditors mind. Reading messages on a screen evokes self-voice — our own voice within our minds. We hear ourselves speaking when reading, albeit silently, but it is self-voice. Self-voice is not the voice of Christ. The voice of the Other, exists outside of me. It identifies me. It addresses me and cannot be domesticated. It is not my voice and, therefore, it does not carry my message. Preaching, as a purely auditory event (much like the proper reading of the Gospel),[1] precludes reference or deference to the all-too-familiar self-voice. It precludes my message.

Self-voice is autobiographical. The story it tells is one of self-justification. Self-voice justifies. It is always engaged in self-justification. That is its message, a message reinforced by therapeutic affirmations. Except there is this problem: Self-voice has no authority. Its self-justifying word is chimerical, a deceit. The story it tells is fiction, because the storyteller—the narrator—hears not the voice of the Good Shepherd but the voice of a sheep.

+ The voice of the Other, exists outside of me. It identifies me. It addresses me and cannot be domesticated.

In preaching and the reading of the Word of God, in the pronunciation of Absolution, and the verbum of Communion, auditors hear the voice of the One they cannot see.[2] In these things and these things only the sheep hear the voice of the Good Shepherd: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). This voice acts upon its auditors. It does things to them. It is a performative voice which establishes states of affairs and indicates identities and status. It does so because the voice of the Good Shepherd is that of One who possesses “all authority in Heaven and on Earth” (Matthew 28:18).

The authority of the voice of the Other, that is, the Good Shepherd, silences the ever-egotistical stammering self and commands deference to it. “The voice,” writes Byung-Chul Han, “undermines self-presence. It makes a deep fissure within the subject that allows the entirely Other to irrupt into the self.”[3] In other words, the voice—the Word of God—exposes self-deception as the Holy Spirit applies the Law and establishes a reconnection with objective reality through the Gospel. The voice of Christ is the breath of God. The breath of God, etymologically and theologically, is the Holy Ghost. Consequently, the voice of Christ sets in action the Holy Spirit who applies the Word of God as Law and Gospel. The voice penetrates, invades us. The voice addresses auditors as sinners in need of justification or repentance or as sinners justified by grace on account of Christ. The voice elicits faith.

The voice, and its location in the Word and Sacraments, bespeaks of embodiment. The voice is embodied. It is Christ’s voice. Isaiah speaks of the “Spirit of the Lord,” while the Apostle Peter references the “Spirit of Christ” (1 Peter 1:11) and the Apostle Paul “the Spirit of [God’s] Son” (Galatians 4:6). Preachers are placeholders for such Christic embodiment which gives way to the Sacrament of incarnation — Holy Communion. This is why preaching should always terminate in feasting on the body and blood of Christ, lest preaching become another exercise in Platonic disembodiment, the pursuit of atemporal ideas. Two-dimensional screens reinforce associations with Platonic disembodiment, again separating message from messenger.