Not only does Kyndall Rothaus have a way with words, but her words make a way for holy encounters. The pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, who graduated from George W. Truett Theological Seminary believes that the preacher’s task is not to transfer ideas, but to “carve out space to encounter the holy.” Kyndall is a skillful writer who knows that well-chosen words may help open a heart to God. A stunning phrase or surprising metaphor can present ancient truths in fresh ways. The right questions can nudge someone to explore faith. Kyndall’s words find their way into pulpits, poetry slams, devotional blogs, and printed pages. Her new book, Preacher Breath, describes the journey she took to find her preaching voice, why she wants us to approach Scripture with less fear, and how the art of preaching engages the whole life of its preachers.
When did Scripture first come alive for you?
I recently found some journals I wrote as a ten-year-old that included questions about the Bible text I was reading: “What did James mean at the time he wrote this? What does this mean universally? What does it mean to me?” I have no idea where I learned to think about that. But that’s what I was doing as a ten-year-old.
Because so much of my book is about returning to Scripture with a childlike wonder, it’s ironic that my childhood journals sound as if I skipped right to critical exegesis! Maybe I am recovering my lost childhood. Anyway, I have had a relationship with Scripture for as long as I can remember. I have argued with it, and been frustrated and confused by it, but it has always been a living, breathing thing to me, full of life, complexity, and invitation.
Your poems are often part of the sermons you include in your book. What does a poet bring to the task of preaching?
Writing poetry in response to Scripture is probably the most compelling way I interact with the words and images I find in the text. Scripture comes alive when you put yourself into it—your doubts, your questions, your emotions, and your imagination. Sometimes we’re afraid to enter the Scripture with our whole selves. We’re afraid we will twist Scripture to meet our needs. That’s always a danger. But a relationship only develops when we engage in it fully, so I engage Scripture that way.
When I stopped worrying about whether God would be mad if I accidentally messed up in my interpretation, that’s when life and exegesis got fun. I don’t throw responsible analysis out the window, but I no longer relate to Scripture from that place of fear. Some fear and trembling, yes, but it’s the kind you get when you embark on an adventure, not the kind that worries whether you’re about to get struck by lightning if you color outside the lines.
What are some of your favorite words?
Hope, imagination, spirit, courage, create, mercy, play, wonder, journey, trust.
You write about the importance of taking risks to feed your soul. What daily risks do you try to take to make space for the holy and to keep your words lively?
I try to keep being vulnerable with people—not just in my writing, but in my relationships with those who have earned my trust. I am private by nature, so this is hard for me.
I try not to run away from things that scare me. Okay, sometimes I run away. But sometimes I get out of bed and face things.
I try to listen to my gut, even when I am being pulled in an unexpected direction.
I try to listen to my emotions and sit with sorrow, anger, and the darker stuff too.
I try to disregard the voices that tell me that busyness, worry, and measurable productivity would be the best uses of my time. Maybe this doesn’t sound so risky, but I think it is.
Who are the writers and poets you love to read?
Mary Oliver, Rumi, Anne Lamott, Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton, Parker Palmer, Sue Monk Kidd, Barbara Brown Taylor.
What nurtures your imagination?
Nature (trees, water, the sky, birds, flowers, grass, wind, insects, etc.). Taking walks. Paying attention. Reading novels. Reading poetry. Silence and solitude. Sacred space. Friendship. Breathing.
How does your writing impact your faith? What does the writing process mean to you?
Writing is often how I find my way back to faith. For me, words make some sense of the chaos. Well-placed words restore my hope. Writing is an expression of my faith. It is a way of praying, a way of knowing myself, a way of relating to the world. Writing is a way of risking appropriate vulnerability, a way of exploring the human experience, a way of holding out hope for all of us. When I write, I personify mercy so I can grasp how close and real it is. Writing is a little bit of a lifeline, really.
Faith is the sea I swim in. I find its waters turbulent, but I don’t plan to be a land-dweller anytime soon. This is why writing, prayer, silence, praying-by-writing, and punctuating-writing-with-long-silences seem absolutely necessary to survival.