WONDER REBORN: Creating Sermons on Hymns, Music, and Poetry, Thomas H. Troeger. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). 208 pp. ISBN 9780195398885. $24.95.
Wonder Reborn, a beautifully designed book written by Thomas H. Troeger, is an important contribution to the interdisciplinary discussion of how spirituality, music, and poetry intersect. Dr. Troeger, with the impressive credentials of flutist, poet, author, ordained minister, and professor, encourages preachers to be more creative in their homiletic endeavors by delving into the texts of hymns, poems, and sacred music for the theological treasures to be uncovered. His passionate desire to connect the laity with a deeper understanding of how the creative arts can enrich the worship experience is to be highly commended.
A distillation of his lectures, workshops, sermons, and conferences, Troeger's book utilizes a variety of materials with the core consisting of sermons he has preached. The first chapter makes a case for lifting up what is beautiful in worship, and the final chapter reviews and solidifies the author's thesis.
In a sense, this work attempts to capture artistic essence in a way that cannot quite be done. Trying to find the words to interpret the ephemeral is a lost cause, and yet it remains an important quest. Troeger reminds preachers that it is their duty to unlock new ways of thinking and hearing, and in so doing inspire diverse listeners to new depths of contemplation, prayer, and creativity. "Beauty is more than prettiness," he reminds us. The "cultural durability of beauty" allows us to process what is "disturbing and difficult" as a "vessel of God's creativity." A grace-filled experience of artistic wonder can leave us breathless in awe of the Divine.
The sermons are designed to be preached and need to be read with that in mind. Having heard Troeger's meditation as part of the Good Friday Jazz Service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, I remember the modulation in his voice, the poetic reading of his material, the space and timing that encourage thoughtful listening. His suggestions for alternating sections of the sermon with listening to music or poetry should not be ignored. This transforms what could easily become a didactic classroom lecture into a worship experience.
Although the material can at times have a plodding quality to it, Troeger is at his best when he speaks of his own revelations and personal experiences. …