It has been said that gesture is the language of the heart. Speech is a revelation of thought; inflections of the voice are the impartation of feeling, and gesture reveals what speech is powerless to express.
Gestures are also of value in clarifying description, for movements are often very simple and expressive when words may be complex. Then, too, a suitable gesture often eliminates the use of unnecessary words. A sweep of the hand may tell the story. The principal laws of gesture are:
1. Gestures Should Be Spontaneous
One should never make a gesture or stage a gesture. It must be born in the natural feeling of the emotion or passion of the heart. An element of naturalness is vital. Is one supposed to be natural everywhere but in the pulpit? To never use gesture is to miss a motivating factor. Someone has said, "Why call in the aid of paralysis to piety?" To gesture about everything is to become ridiculous. One of the cautions to observe is to avoid monotonous repetition of a solitary gesture.
2. Gesture Must Picture Thought
A gesture is effective only when it expresses the idea better or helps to picture it as living truth. This is why it is not best to inhibit a natural impulse to gesture.
Another law of gesture is that of balanced, graceful movements. The arms should move in an easy flow from the shoulders and not from the elbow. The hand movements should be recognized as a complement of the facial expressions of the speaker. The speed, force, and timing of a gesture are determined by the thought itself.
4. Gesture as a Climax of Thought
There are times when a clenched fist, or a pointed finger, or a hand flicking open punctuates a thought in a dramatic way.
Common Faults in Gesture
One fatal error is to concentrate on thinking of the gesture itself while preaching. In the act of delivering a sermon one should forget all about gesture. It should be a part of the speaker's automatic expression. The body, arms, and fingers should be kept alive, ready for action as the thought or feeling may require.
The common faults to be avoided are rigidity, mechanical artificiality, common or monotonous gestures, and a violent display that mistakes perspiration for inspiration.
Dr. A. Phelps has aptly observed: "Genius is not essential to good preaching, but a live man is."