Sunday, March 17, 2019

A lack of hearing. . .

Where once it might have been said that the Word suffered from a lack of sources, today it suffers from a lack of hearers.  Oh, to be sure, we have the Word all around us but it has become captive to nearly everything else we filter into our ears through personal preference and our impatience that reads faster on the page than our ears can hear.  In the confusion of it all, we have forgotten what it means to hear, to listen.

While I understand why we do it, printing out the readings for the Divine Service (or, for that matter having Bibles in the pews for folks to turn to). distracts us from hearing the Word.  Remember that until modern times, the people of God encountered His Word not as a page in their hands but as a voice in their ear.  This is doubtless the expectation of St. Paul (Faith comes by hearing).  It was and is the history of Old and New Testament until the advent of modern education gave to all the ability to read and write and modern printing made the cost of such books accessible.

Now, lest you think I have gone off my rocker, I am not advocating for an end or even a restriction of books.  Look at the walls of my office.  Lord knows, I love books.  But I am advocating for hearing the Word, for the aural Word that enters our hearts and minds not through the eye but through the ear.  I grew up back when teachers spent part of their time with elementary age students reading to the class the great books and stories of old.  I still recall the sound of a teacher's voice reading Mr. Poppers Penguins (and, by the way, was most disappointed by the more recent movie of the same name).  Back in the dark ages when I was in Sunday school, the teacher began by simply reading the Bible story of the day.

Nowadays when we do hear the Bible read, it is in brief installments (called pericopes) at the weekly liturgy where we follow along on an insert or in the worship folder or Sunday bulletin or in the missalettes.  We seem unable to sit and listen without having something to focus our eye upon.  For us the Word of God is more typically a word on a page and not the oral Word.  On top of that, sustained reading aloud is rare -- whether of Scripture or anything else.  Most of our reading is individual, silent, and somewhat abstract.  We read and pause and daydream or think upon a word or phrase and in it all we are the ones in control of the process.  

Yet reading out loud is completely different. It is by nature a social act and not individual.  The words incarnate in us very differently through the eye and the mind than through the ear.  To be sure, there are imaginary faces that I have put with particular voices because of how I heard things read out loud.  For a time I enjoyed listening in my car to books aloud (not the kind you pick up at Cracker Barrel but through NPR and the voice of Dick Estell).  

When we hear the Bible read, the Word is literally enfleshed in a voice and a person.  It is not reading for entertainment or even for information but sacramental reading, the voice that reads is reading a Word that does what it says through the reading and hearing of that Word.  Literally God is at work in the reading and the hearer is not simply incorporating information into the mind but receiving the Word and the Spirit acting through that Word.

When we listen to the Bible at home, it has a similar effect.  Parents read the Bible stories to their  children not simply as reading to entertain but in their parental vocation to teach the faith to their children. Although we may surely listen while we do other things (like driving), it is quite another thing to sit and devote the fullness of one's attention to what speaks into the ear.  Multi-tasking has let us think that we are giving due attention to all things but there is something quite shocking when the Scriptures become mere background sounds, the way a TV, radio, I-Pod or other device provides a constant soundtrack in the background of our lives. The aural Bible ought to have the dignity of our full attention and not compete for it the way other things must constantly beg to be heard.

So my first appeal is to let go of that paper in your hand on Sunday morning and listen to hear the voice of God speak through His Word.  And listen in your own time to more extended portions of the Scripture.  And read it to your children.  Amazon Audible has versions but they are also available in various places.  Hear the Word of God. . . and keep it.  God's Word does not need to be animated by our imagination, it is animated by the Spirit. 

1 comment:

Mabel said...

Excuse me.... but it was "Mr. Popper's Penguins". There was a very patient Mrs. Popper, however. I knew I would not like the film so I have not seen it and have no plans to. At the time I read the book in 4th grade, I did not know the cost of shrimp and now as an adult have marveled at how much the Poppers were paying to feed all of those penguins.