“A Whiter Shade of Pale” was a 1967 hit by the British rock band Procol Harum. You can’t not know this song if you like classic rock. That would be like a poet lover not knowing “The Rime of the Ancient Marnier” or a techie not knowing Apple could refer to more than a fruit.
This phrase, not the song but this memorable phrase, fits my experience as a pastor who has written out every sermon he has ever preached – save two. As the decades have gone by I have found the white paper before me – now a computer screen – is ever whiter and more intimating. I do the – I think it was Hemingway – trick of never starting, even now, on a full size piece of paper. I start on a scrap, something easily thrown away and forgotten. Nothing permanent and unalterable being written here says that paper to me. But still you always get to the eve- whiter, ever-bigger blank piece of paper or computer screen staring at you.
Novelist Stephen King says this about writing, “Only the ones just starting out – the kids – aren’t scared. The years go by and the words on the page don’t get any darker…but the white space sure does get whiter” (The Dark Half, 444). Amen to that.
Doubtless some pastors and not a few laymen – and rightly so – will point out that the problem is I am thinking of myself as a novelist not a preacher, or better yet, a herald. A herald, a word Scripture often uses, is only to repeat the words of his king. In fact, he dare not go beyond the king’s words.
I agree. I have way too much me in the sermonizing equation. But you have to admit the King James was right. It wasn’t an oracle, prophesy, or message, as modern translations have it, that came to prophets. It was a burden. It is a burden.
It is a burden to preach to a world insane with science, with self, and with Spirit-less spirituality. It is a burden to stand by the dead and say they are alive. It is a burden to preach to sinners that they are saints and to saints that they are sinners. It is a burden to preach of the invisible Almighty God who only appears wrapped in such weak things as Water, Bread, Wine, and my very weak words.
Here is where I am suppose to close with the confession, the affirmation, the assertion that this burden is light because indeed Jesus says His yoke is easy and His burden is light, and Paul says whatever our afflictions they are light and momentary compared to the eternal weight of glory. I can confess, affirm, and assert all this by faith, but with Jimmy Buffet my Old Adam says the “The river gets deeper not shallower, / the further you move down the stream,” and with Procol Harum that my computer screen is a whiter shade of pale than it was just a few minutes ago.