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September 2010

September 20, 2010

The Poetry and Power of Reading Aloud

While preparing my lecture for the Tuesday evening "Missional Leadership" course I am teaching this semester, I found a quote describing the power of reading aloud. I was surprised to discover the quote because I was searching the article for something else. However, the particular passage relates to something we have been doing every week in class. One of our practices has been "sacred reading." In most classes (mine included), reading is assigned and people complete the assignment (or don't) outside of class. Often the only means of connecting together over the content is by marking assignments given to measure a student's comprehension and integration of the material. This is fine, but not nearly adequate if learning is to be transformational.

So, to practice "sacred reading," we spend the first thirty minutes of class reading and listening and interacting around a specific part of a text. I think what we are seeking to do is bring the text to life in our context. For this particular class, we are reading from Henri Nouwen's classic book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. On two other occasions we have read articles out loud together. This week we will do so again. The article I will read from is an interview that the poet Luci Shaw did with Dallas Willard on the practice of spiritual disciplines - among other things. It is a beautiful, almost lyrical interaction. To eavesdrop on a poet and a philosopher discussing the ways in which their imaginations (and, of course, their lives) have been shaped in the alternative reality of the kingdom of God is magical and inspiring. (By the way, the article I am referring to comes from the magazine Radix, volume 27, issue number 2.)

It was while rereading this article that I came across Shaw's description of the power of reading aloud in community. It is good and I want to share just a brief part of it.

"Getting back to language, I have often felt that it's important for poetry, and for Scripture, to be read aloud. Something changes when our voice tones carry those words - rather than our eyes reading them in silence, flat on the page. Reading aloud, with expression and understanding, adds a new dimension. It's a resurrection of sorts, a raising of a story, or an image, or an idea, into life. It becomes a living thing." (28)

I believe that part of what changes, or transforms, a text from something that is flat on a page to something that lives is what happens between us when we read aloud in the context of a community. It is the act of hearing something together, of being present to ideas with particular people (who are present to one another) and being willing to engage one another in community that brings an idea or a text to life...or better, creates the possibility of incarnation, the Word/word becoming flesh.

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