Before I learned to read the Word—before my childish eyes and mind had discovered how to decipher printed codes upon a page—I knew […]
Before I learned to read the Word—before my childish eyes and mind had discovered how to decipher printed codes upon a page—I knew the sound of Scripture in my ears.
On glorious Sabbath afternoons in the botanical gardens of the city where we lived, my father would gather our family beneath a pin oak tree silhouetted against the flaming red sky of a Texas sunset. And there on the scratchy wool blanket that protected us from the red ants and the mites, I would hear the words of the Psalms in my father’s sonorous voice:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.”
Now, more than a half century later, I still “hear” those words each time my eyes settle on Psalm 103, for there’s a memory from the sound of things that often doesn’t linger in the eye.
With the welcome growth of literacy in almost every nation of the world during the past two centuries, we rightly celebrate the ability of each individual to read the Word of God; to study—as we do in school—the visual structure of the text, comparing verse with verse, and adding truth to truth. The growth of this Advent movement around the globe has assumed the priority of literacy, and of teaching people both the joy and responsibility of private devotional study of the Bible. As one Bible society memorably phrased it: “They can’t read the Word if they can’t read the words.”
But this shouldn’t cause us to forget the great and powerful sound of God’s Word in our ears, read aloud to us by some benevolent figure, or read aloud to ourselves in moments when hearing God’s Word from our own mouths quiets us, calms our hearts, and soothes our griefs and pains.
Almost all of Scripture—from the books of Moses to the visions of John the Revelator—was meant to be read, recited, or sung aloud, usually in groups, in house churches, or in public worship spaces. Jesus spoke, not wrote, His teachings and His sermons, and the fact that we may read them in our own language today shouldn’t obscure our ability to “hear” Him when our eyes move across the page. Paul’s and Peter’s letters to the churches were intended to convey the personal relationship the apostles enjoyed with those who listened. The reason we cherish these epistles today is because the Spirit breathed through both those who wrote and those who read them aloud to faithful congregations.
“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” Paul wrote 20 centuries ago (Rom. 10:17). Let’s celebrate—again—the public and private reading of the Word aloud, that we may truly align our lives with John’s seven-times-repeated counsel: “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev. 2:17, NRSV).*
The church I want to belong to is faithful to Scripture.
*Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved