Sunday, August 14, 2011

Father Mapple's Sermon

I watched with great anticipation, the newest version of Herman Melville's esteemed classic 'Moby Dick' on the Encore Channel.  I watched Donald Sutherland's portrayal of 'Father Mapples' and his delivery of the sermon before the crew began their fated misadventure with Captain Ahab (Sutherland is one of my favorite actors).

I was thoroughly disappointed!

So I recently watched the original film version of 'Moby Dick' and was instantly reminded why I am captivated by this movie. It's not just Gregory Peck, it's also Orson Welles in this brilliant, near cameo performance.

The reason Sutherland's performance fails is it makes no attempt to catch the eloquence of preaching during the period of Melville's great novel. Preaching in those days was not only Divinely inspired exhortation to enter the Kingdom of God. As an exercise it was a gift that was at least as much art as it was science. The passion of the preacher was as much in the way in which he romanced language as it was in his spiritual earnestness. His capacity to paint the picture of the story told in scripture using his tongue as a brush moved the audience emotionally as well in their spirits.

Orson Welles captured it and captured it masterfully. As an actor, Welles can only be described as pure genius!


Much of what passes for preaching falls short of what I've described earlier. And, yes, I know I've romanticized the preaching of 200 years or so. But, my point is, real preaching challenges us; it changes us; at times it comforts and consoles. But there is something about it, when it is done classically, allows a congregation to feel and to 'see' and they leave knowing they must do something with and about what they've heard.

Sutherland's 'conversational' style didn't capture the classic declamation of the 18th or 19th century. It mirrors more of the 'mass therapy' and self-esteem pandering of our day. In the end we all still go after our whales. I may be somewhat prejudice but I think after a message delivered the way Orson Welles delivered his, we go after our whales that why we go is more important than the whale we seek! And in the process, some of us catch something bigger. Much, much bigger...

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