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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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Sarah M.

I always appreciated that we read the text out loud together every week at Jacob's Well. During advent, we had weekly poetry readings after the Lenten dinner. I read some of my work; it was absolutely terrifying...and transformational. Especially because people were given time to respond. That kind of immediate feedback almost NEVER happens in the life of a writer or creator. Even at my job at Hallmark our feedback comes mediated through a formal review process and the separation of a few days or weeks worth of time. Here's to more spoken (W)word in the life of the church!

Aaron M

That interview has been formational in my life as well. I first read it in preparation for some writing on the spiritual practices. I have encountered very little of Luci's work but her intro to David O Taylor's book on church and aesthetics was inspiring as well. Specifically her thoughts on beauty always existing and art being the language of beauty.

Aaron M

Also...we have in our faith community found the out loud readings of the Psalms on a regular basis to be very formational as well. This week we had a young girl in our community pass away from cancer, reading the Psalm 116 out loud together gave us language we needed.

Tim Keel

That is excellent, Sarah. I am sure that took a tremendous amount of courage to do. I believe that taking such risks is a way of giving a gift - in fact, the whole experience becomes a gift (that always holds the possibility of being rejected [which is why it is so risky]). That kind of vulnerability is a gift to others - and to yourself. Choosing to live with risk, refusing fear, is a wonderful thing to behold/experience.

Tim Keel

Thanks for the feedback, Aaron. I wonder if reading aloud is a kind of bearing witness?

Adam White

I remember 3 years ago when we started reading the gospels aloud during the Easter prayer vigil. It was a really neat experience that seemed to impact a lot of people. I'm not even sure I can explain it.

Tim Keel

That's really great, Adam. I think there is a lot to be discovered in this regard.

Looi Kwok Wah

I read with interest, your thoughts on reading aloud on the text and the after effects. I agreed, when one chooses to read aloud, he engages not only the visual sense but also the auditory sense. Importantly, in the cerebral cortex, it allows integration of these senses to make relevant interpretation with what has been read out against a background data on one's past experiences. That being more meaningful.
Certainly with much input from sharing by the people around, the meaning would be further enriched on different facets as with peeling the different layers of the onion.
Now, with the word of God being the RIMA word. Should there be any different?
The bible speaks of the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the understanding to man.
Why than, exist conflicting understanding and interpretation on scripture, when the source of wisdom came from the same one SPIRIT?
Could it be, that it is on the different layers of onion that the Holy Spirit is interpreting?

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