I love books. I have so many there is barely room for them in my office. I like looking for books in book stores, in used book shops, and on line. I like buying them. I can hardly wait for them to arrive when I have place my order. When I open a book for the first time it is the start of an adventure. Some of them are read as soon as they arrive. Others put away for some future spare moment. Still others are not meant to be read -- at least not in the sense of starting at the beginning and reading through to the end. They are to be referred to as one searches through an encyclopedia for information on a specific point.
An acquaintance is all excited about something called Kindle -- a library of 3,000 books in a little electronic tool with a screen that scrolls up the paragraphs. I like electronics but I cannot see that some device with a screen will ever replace the wonderful feel of a book in your hand or the joy of page quickly turned in anticipation of another, or the end of a chapter and the start of a new one. There is just something about paper sealed between two covers that makes it so inviting to me.
If the book is good, it is a sad thing when I turn the last page and the journey of words is ended. If the book is great, it is tragedy that can only be undone by a second reading, or a third. If the book is but mediocre, it is still not time lost or wasted. Sometimes what begins as a routine read becomes a great surprise -- the delight of a true treasure hidden among altogether ordinary words.
It is a good thing to like books, to love reading. God has given us a book, the Word in written form. In fact it is not just a book but a whole library of books -- some history, some poetry, some preaching, some correspondence. I find that sometimes when I look up something specific, I find myself distracted by a sentence I had not read exactly that way before. A few moments in God's Word becomes an hour of reading complete with verbal "ahhhs" and even a some "wows" thrown in. I find it hard to read just the appointed reading or to stick with verse at hand. The Word leads to more words and I guess that is exactly how it should be.
While living in New York, I listened to Dick Estell and the Radio Reader and heard novels read on the air. As I listened to him read, I noticed that there is big difference between hearing and reading. I caught things from listening that I missed when I read. Maybe it is because I read too fast or my comprehension level is not what it should be. Maybe it is because when you listen, you are dependent upon the reader and your mind cannot push ahead so easily.
Scripture is meant to be read, surely, but even more it is meant to be heard. It is a book whose words are most at home when they are spoken to us and we hear them fall from the lips of the reader. In the Orthodox Church readers read Scripture in place of what we in the West might call "preservice music." The readers read the Word of the Lord as the people enter and make their way to their place, while they pray, and as they prepare for the liturgy. It is a marvelous practice.
The lessons for each Sunday are generally printed out in most congregations (Lutheran and all types) -- as they are in mine. But I wish they were not. Scripture needs to heard as well as read. I understand why we have printed out the lessons but I still believe that we miss something by keeping our noses down on the paper instead of our ears up to hear the Word. Books in general and The Book are experienced best when we hold the covers in our hands and read down the page and when we close our eyes to listen -- in both instances savoring the words and The Word as treasures that make us rich beyond words.
So there you have it. Words. The Word. Written. And Heard.