I love learning new words and gaining insights from word etymologies, especially when they come from roots in ancient Greek.  I can almost hear the “chorus of mouse clicks” from those who just tuned out and moved on to something of much greater interest in cyberspace.  It’s okay; I don’t take it personally.  I accepted long ago that some of the things that really charge my battery and fascinate me to the point of giddiness can cause other people’s eyes to glaze over and their minds to wander off in search of a mental “happy place.”

One of the reasons that I am such a slow reader is that, if I come across an unfamilar word, phrase, or point of reference, I’ll get seriously sidetracked in looking for a definition, derivation, or explanation.  It may be 30 or 45 minutes before I wind my way back around to the text I was reading.  The internet has further fed my addiction in this regard.

Last week, I was reading an article and came across the word “somnolence.”  To my knowledge, I had never seen the word before, and the context of the sentence didn’t prove to be very helpful in deciphering the word’s meaning.  As I frequently do, I consulted Miriam Webster Online.  It turns out that somnolence means, “the quality or state of being drowsy; sleepiness.”  Somnolent, the adjectival form of the term, means “of a kind likely to induce sleep.”  But, here’s the kicker and the reason for bringing all of this up.   The example of usage that was provided for the adjective was, “a somnolent sermon.”  Ouch!  Out of an entire universe of possible causes for sleepiness among humans, they chose a sermon as their illustration.

In 27 years of preaching, I have witnessed a significant amount of snoozing among the saints.  There are numerous reasons why someone might succumb to a wave of drowsiness during a sermon:  medication, shift work on the weekend, being up with a crying infant for most of Saturday night, etc.  While there is much that the visual vantage point of an elevated pulpit allows one to see, there is still a lot of activity that escapes my notice simply because I am so focused on the message when I am preaching.  I have lost count of the number of times over the years that someone has apologized to me for falling asleep during the sermon, effectively offering a confession of something about which I was totally unaware until they told me. 

I really don’t mind folks falling asleep during the sermon if they will at least commit to several minutes of intense battle before being overcome by slumber.  It is one thing to just cave in and surrender your consciousness with no resistance at all.  But, those who valiantly fight to stay awake, who repeatedly risk whiplash injuries with violent head nods, and those who strain to keep their weary eyelids open by a courageous act of sheer will, these earn great respect and appreciation for their efforts. 

In reality, I know that preachers themselves can be the primary cause of “assembly sleep.”  The blame for bland, disjointed, unimaginative, and unenthusiastically delivered sermons lies squarely at our feet. 

Several years ago, I asked some friends how things were going at their congregation and how they were liking their new preacher.  “You mean Reverend Sominex?” they asked.  That was all I needed to know.

I know that I have shortcomings as a proclaimer of the Word, and I constantly seek to become a more effective communicator of the Gospel.  I hope that I will always be able to take constructive criticism and use it for improvement.  But, I sincerely pray that I will never earn the clerical title, Reverend Sominex!

And if you are wondering (and I know you are) about the derivation of somnolence, somnolent, and Sominex, they all come from the Latin word somnus which means “sleep.”  You see, in Roman mythology, Somnus was the personification of sleep, equivalent to Hypnos among the Greeks… Feeling drowsy yet?

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