"Try listening to a lecture or sermon as if you had never heard English before. Listen for the flow of syllables --- some strong, some weak. What do we mean by an accented syllable? Is it louder? Does it take longer to pronounce than its neighboring syllable does?"
(Suzanne U. Clark, in The Roar on the Other Side)
If, as I do, you sometimes have a difficult time staying awake during the sermon on Sunday morning, try something different. Forget about the content for the time being and assume that the three points will in some way prick you nonetheless and provide inspiration and provocation later, when you've shaken off the slippery slope of Sunday sleep. (Say that ten times quickly, will you?)
Pretend the pastor is not speaking English, a not far stretch of the imagination with some pastors, I know. Listen not to what they say but how they say it. Why stress what they stress? Why pause where they pause? What accent the syllable they accent?
Speech is poetry, really, with a musical quality about it. Poet Suzanne Clark reminds us "that the most prominent sound pattern in English is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. When used as a deliberate pattern in a poem, it is called an iamb. . . . Of course in speech the pattern is random and inconsistent." In poetry, she says, order is brought to the randomness: "The iambic meter --- presenting the pattern at regular intervals --- has historically been the prevailing one."
Even when random and inconsistent, the intriguing thing about the iamb's prevalence in speech is that it always surfaces. Just listen to the sermon. You'll hear it, the rising and falling of stress, the rising and falling of voice. What it is, I believe, is our unconscious imitation of the "THUMP-thump" of our own heartbeat, the music we effortlessly make, our own internal rhythm. And that, I suspect, is a rhythm built into Creation itself --- "there was evening, and there was morning --- an iamb placed in Creation by a God who some believed even put in Creation a "music of the spheres." Hmmm.
And then, perhaps all this is a lot of rubbish. Nevertheless, listen to the sound of the sermon anyway. You may just wake up to more than its iambs. "Beautiful words have interesting sounds with value quite apart from sense," says Clark (once again, a good thing in respect to some pastors). So listen. And then when you bow for prayer, put your hand to your heart and realize that there is a reason you sound like you do. And let a small word of praise escape your mouth that that beat goes on, and on.