Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Ears and Eyes. . .

As I have said before, I am not sure that all the hubbub about visual learners and other ways of learning is worth all that much.  In fact, I am quite confident that the move toward visual learning has nothing whatsoever to do with the learner but everything to do with the move toward the visual medium in culture, society, and, of course, the ever present screen.  The industry and culture have trained us.  It is not really our preference, it is a preference that we have adopted only because the screen is everywhere and we have learned to judge by what we see.  The news media may have thought it was leading the pack but the sound byte (which is really a visual byte) is a reflection of everything else around it as much as anything else.  It is the visual byte because we pay less attention to what we hear than we do to what we say.

Translate that into worship.  Everything has become a visual.  Of course, we can rush to the ever present screens that dominate so much of evangelical style worship or the staged productions of worship that dominate some of the most liturgical settings.  It is visual that engages us more than the oral or aural.  Even the praise band and its ever present worship diva leading the song is a visual image -- have you ever seen one of them in the back of the church?  There is, to be sure, a difference between the visual of the liturgy and the visual of screens.  One is actually happening before you -- live, as it were -- the other is recorded, packaged for distribution.   While I will not dwell on this difference, it must be noted.

My point here is that what we see seems to have a rather direct connection to the heart while what we hear seems to be more directed toward the mind.  There is a chance I am wrong in this but I am fairly sure this is more true than false.  What I am saying is that all our attention to the visual seems to be reflected in the attention given to feelings over facts and emotions over events.  We treat the Scriptures as a visual image to be appreciated by the heart and an emotive reality engaged by our feelings more than a book of facts on which to build a worldview and an efficacious book whose facts have continuing impact on us even now.  It is as if we have decided that it does not matter if the Bible is true, what matters is how it makes us feel.  Everything in worship is treated with the same idea -- it does not matter if it is true or the whole truth but whether we find it meaningful or helpful.  If it makes us feel better, it must be good.

Strangely, the people surrounding Jesus saw a great deal that should have encouraged faith but it did not.  Miracle bread to feed thousands, healing of the sick, and even the raising of the dead occasioned opposition as much as belief.  But the teaching -- the Word heard on the ear -- did bring people to faith, most especially the twelve.  And then there is that pesky quote from St. Paul -- faith comes by hearing the Word of God.  Not to mention the importance attached to preaching as if the sermon was, well, to give a nod to Nagel, a means of grace?  

All I am saying really is that we have turned the Word into something visual -- we read it in books and bulletins with eyes rather than engaging the Word of God through the voice.  There is nothing wrong with the Word we read or see on the page or screen but Scripture speaks always of the Word as oral and aural.  It is spoken and heard.  I fear we have lost something in the translation of the Word of God into words on a page or screen that is not missing in the Word but in how we meet it.  For my part, hearing is a vastly different experience from reading and, judging from the sound of the bulletin pages crunching in the page turn, I think that this is true for many of the folks in the pews -- whether we would admit it or not.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Seeing something on a screen is portrayed as realistic; it can become reality for many. It engages the emotions. What do we go to movies to receive? Even in a documentary, it’s to have our feelings stimulated, and to change our view of reality to that of the screenwriter or producer (or their handlers). Words can certainly strike our emotions; just watch two people with different political ideologies. How often does a casual conversation turn into a serious discussion, then into an argument, and may even end in blows? Most times, however, words simply bore people.

What is dangerous is the way we take these two media in, and what we then do with them. The visual does not generally stimulate us to serious thought and meditation, but we do absorb the images. What our eyes take in can often stimulate us to action without thought; a dangerous proposition. Words require our thought to process, to understand. Words are simply slower than the visual. Words require us to make assessments of reality, and about truth. They may evoke emotion, but with or without emotion, they require decisions. Decisions made with forethought.

What is unclear is which lasts longer, and how each affects our souls.