Let God Speak for Himself
The series of books called The Divine Hours introduced many people, unfamiliar with the Anglican prayer "offices" and the Benedictine routine, to the concept of fixed-hour prayer. Author Phyllis Tickle collected prayers from several Christian traditions and paired them with Scriptures in a series of daily readings designed to give free-form pray-ers more structure and an appreciation for older spiritual practices. For decades, Tickle served as religion editor for Publisher's Weekly, keeping track of every book and trend in Christendom. Today she is finding a welcome audience among younger Christians and church leaders who find her witty, wise, and wise-cracking. When our Eric Reed caught up with her, Tickle had just returned to her Tennessee farm, fresh from the stage of a national youth pastors conference. Her newest book is This Is What I Pray Today: Divine Hours Prayers for Children (Dutton, 2007).
What happens when we hear the Word read aloud?
Two things happen. First, we become habituated in a good way. That is, we begin to hear those words and take them in, which does something very close to what Eugene Peterson meant by the title of his book, Eat This Book. I'm part of a tradition that reads a lot of Scripture in worship and encourages it in the daily offices. Cumulatively, hearing all this Scripture lays track, just as it did all those years in Sunday school. It's repetitive, but we learn by repetition. As adults we know "The Lord is my Shepherd" because we heard it so often as children, and for that reason, it becomes the first file that downloads when we have distress. (That's why I have become passionate about reading to children over and over.)
Now, a second thing also happens, which is more serious. When you read the Word, it becomes a thing on the page. When you hear it, it can't be a thing because it's not physically present in the same way. It's not visible. Instead it becomes an auditory space and you move into it. It occupies a different psychological space when it's heard.
Meeting the Word in a different way, it acts on us differently?
Yes. It infiltrates. The Word works on us and changes us. You don't see words in your head on some kind of video screen, but almost all of us hear voices, though we don't admit it—.
(Laughter) Go ahead. Admit it —
—yeah, I hear voices. All of us hear sounds in our heads. And so to hear the Word is to let it infiltrate and occupy that kind of place in our interior.
So we need not only to read the Word, but to hear it? Kathleen Norris said she needed it read to her by others, like a bedtime story, so that it became her story.
Oh, she's absolutely right. You need the other voice bringing it in like a gift. Otherwise it loses some of its impact. It becomes familiar in the way your own voice is familiar. Though, interestingly enough, I don't think an audio book of it does the same thing, or the few I have tried don't do it. It's not incarnational enough. What she's saying is that there needs to be a human voice and energy physically present, so that comes in with the words, too. There's something about the canned words, the recorded word, that doesn't do quite the same thing.