Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The word of God incarnate

I'm rereading The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, which I read with my old book club buddies in Seattle about five years ago. I have started, rather clumsily, praying the Liturgy of the Hours in the evening and in the morning when I get to it, which is kind of a challenge for me, not because I don't have time, but because I don't really like having a schedule and have avoided doing things at set times insofar as is possible. But in another way I'm drawn to the senes of regularity, to the idea that I am doing something millions of other Christians are doing at more or less the same time (although I doubt I do morning prayer as early as most people in my time zone) so that our voices are lifted up as one to God, and to the way the liturgy of the hours aims to fulfill Paul's admonition to "pray without ceasing." I do have a sort of professional motive for doing this too, because I figure it will help me get into the minds of the church fathers, who prayed the psalms daily, except much more intensively and probably more effectively. But I am learning. Anyway, I thought her book about the time she spent as a layperson living in a Benedictine community would help me reflect on the liturgy of the hours as I pray it.

This quote reminded me of my long post on biblical studies a few days ago:

Listening to the Bible read aloud is not only an invaluable immersion in religion as an oral tadition, it allows even the scripture scholars of a monastic community to hear with fresh ears. A human voice is speaking, that of an apostle, or a prophet, and the concerns critical to biblical interpretation--authorship of texts, interpolation of material, redaction of manuscript sources--recede into the background. One doesn't forget what one knows, and the process of listening may well inform one's scholarship. But in communal lectio, the fact that the Book of Jeremiah has several authors matters far less than that a human voice is speaking, and speaking to you. Even whether or not you believe that this voice speaks the word of God is less important than the sense of being sought out, personally engaged, making it possible, even necessary, to respond personally, to take the scriptures to heart. (33)

Well, I'm less agnostic about the last bit, but I thought this was neat, the idea that hearing the Bible through a human voice really draws you in and makes you somehow more accountable to listen attentively and be confronted by the words. I have been thinking lately about how important the ministry of the word is and how important it is that it be read well. I'm a visual learner and usually retain information better from reading it than from hearing it, but I have also heard the scriptures read by some remarkable readers who grabbed me and pulled me in by the collar. That, too, is quite a vocation.

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