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Hear the Gospel

Reading Aloud

 

When I was in grade school, learning to read, students who even whispered to themselves softly or moved their lips as they read were ridiculed and chastised. This was seen as behavior requiring immediate correction. But did these children know instinctively that reading is a physical act; that good books are meant to be heard; that the words are meant to be in our mouth?

 

“My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the Lord, “from this time and forevermore.”  Isaiah 59:21

 

This Column

I’m not a minister. I haven’t been trained, ordained, or pastor-ized in any way. I’m not an historian. But what I have done for almost 50 years, in multiple Protestant denominations and churches, is serve as a lay reader. What I’ve done is engaged in the public reading of scripture. I’ve tried to put the Lord’s words in my mouth.

In Hear the Gospel, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on reading scripture aloud — what it means to me and why I think it’s important. These are my own observations and ideas. They may be a little unorthodox. So, please bear with me. I invite you to simply take what you can use and disregard the rest.

I’ll generally post three kinds of articles. The first kind will be explorations into why I think that scripture was meant to be read and heard aloud in the first place, and why it’s so important for ALL OF US to read and hear scripture aloud.

The second kind of article will include links to Gospel readings — some that I’ve recorded, accompanied by notes on those same readings that will give you a sense of my approach to the experience of reading aloud. The selected readings will come from the revised common lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library. The commentary is my own.

And finally, I’ll occasionally post observations from other books, articles and news of the day that I find relevant to the subject of reading scripture aloud.

 

Can you Hear the Gospel?

 

Like Shakespeare, I think scripture sounds much better than it reads on the page. Anyone who reads the Bible aloud regularly quickly recognizes how good it sounds and how immediate it seems. There’s an emotional depth and vitality in scripture that’s revealed only when it’s given a human voice.

The public reading of scripture in a worship service is not just a footnote to the sermon or homily. Reading aloud before a congregation precipitates a dramatic encounter between the reader, listeners and scripture that’s happening right here, right now, in this space and time.

 

Encountering Scripture Today

The encounter is dramatic because there are passages in the bible that are completely outside of our understanding of how the laws of physics work and are beyond our day-to-day experience of the world in which we live. These are words that challenge our perception and understanding of present reality.

There are passages which are astounding to read and even more astonishing to hear. Words that we could never have imagined coming out of our own mouth. Words that upset us, confound us, and even make us blush. These are words which once read aloud cannot be unread, unspoken or ignored.

These words are meant to be in our mouth, from this time forth and forevermore.

Reading Aloud in Public

I know that many of us dread speaking – let alone reading aloud — in front of a group and will avoid it at all cost. We might feel we don’t have the gift or don’t feel it’s something we’re called to do. We may feel shy or uncomfortable and afraid we’ll make mistakes. We may not like it when we think readers of the gospel sound actorly or try to impose their own interpretation on the text. We may be confused as to whether a reading should be devotional, homiletic or scholarly, or all three at the same time…and how do you do that anyway?

Here’s what I think.

First, there’s no single voice that is the voice of the Bible. The Gospels are to be heard not only in the sonorous tones of the most skilled readers in the congregation, but in every voice. There are over 3,000 persons named in the Bible and tens of thousands of other unnamed soldiers, wedding guests, tax collectors, shepherds, and woman-at-the-wells. Each one evokes a different voice. We’re all called to lend them our voices.

Nearly all of us are blessed at birth with one of the most miraculous instruments in all of God’s creation, the human voice. It’s not the human eye that is the most miraculous, as some would have you think, but the voice. This is the gift. If you have a voice, no matter what the timbre, you have the gift.

Reading the Gospels aloud can be a powerful and unifying source of faith. For me, the Bible contains all that it means to live; to really live and live fully, as a human being in the presence of God. Here are all the challenges we face as creatures of God’s creation and the comfort we seek. These are words to keep in our mouth.

I hope you will find all of this interesting and that, if you’re not already, you will become emboldened to try reading scripture aloud.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the words of Timothy who said, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture…”  What other invitation do we need?  Please, join me in this exploration.

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