This Lent has been centered around the question of “Why?”
We have been sharing in Soup+Bread Lenten studies following worship and it has been invigorating – at least for me! As a pastor, I really enjoy the opportunities to teach that come along from time to time. But I hope that participants have been getting as much out of our sessions as I have. Our conversations have been lively and I think I have seen moments when people have been opened up to new ideas and understandings.
So far we have explored the ideas of “Why Faith?” and “Why Christianity?”.
This week we will explore the questions, “Why the Word? Why do we read the Bible?”
Now, if you want to know why we read the Bible as Christians, how we understand it together, why we read it and not other books, you will have to come to our study on Sunday!
But for the past number of months, I have been asking my own “why?” questions about the Bible. Particularly, I have been wondering about how we listen to the Word in worship. How I listen to the Word in worship.
Now this might seem a like a strange thing to wonder about. Isn’t the answer obvious? Someone reads the reading and the rest of us listen/read along, right? On the surface that is true, but there is a lot more to it than that.
In fact, in our liturgy class in seminary there was a lot of time devoted to understanding just what we were doing when we read from the Scriptures in worship.
We talked about how Scripture is read. Does the reader read it like a Shakespearian actor delivering a soliloquy? Or like Ferris Bueller’s teacher taking attendance, with the flattest affect possible? Do you look up to make eye contact or look at the words continuously so as not to lose your place?
We talked about whether the Sunday readings are for learning and study or for edification and exhortation.
We talked about how to listen to the readings. For example, the presider should model listening by looking at the reader rather than busily looking at the worship plan. Should we read along with the words or simply use our ears to hear the reading? When we read along, our brains switch into matching the words we are reading to what we are hearing, while deprioritizing comprehension. Simply listening is ideal. And yet making the readings accessible for those who are hard of hearing is important as well.
And then there are deeper questions about what the readings are for. We tend to think the Word portion of worship is like a Bible study where we learn about each reading. Yet, cramming in a deeper understanding of all four readings each week is a lot to ask in the seven or eight minutes we spend hearing the Word. Similarly, shifting to a system like the Narrative Lectionary is a challenge because it disconnects the readings from the larger liturgical calendar and the ways in which in each Sunday’s set of readings support one another to tell the narrative of each season.
More and more I am coming to the view that it takes a certain kind of skill and attention to hear the Word in worship. Rather than following closely, word matching or studying the Word as if for a test, hearing Scripture in worship is something like going to the symphony.
At the symphony, there might be a lecture on the music before the concert. There might be things about the history of the music to learn at home. But in the moment, during the concert, we listen attentively. We let the music wash over us catching the emotion, the harmonies and dissonance that evoke different responses or feelings within us.
Similarly when hearing the Word in worship, we listen best to whatever words inspire or comfort, challenge or compel. We listen for things that God might be saying to us in that moment, and then we let the readings go, as we contemplate what message the Spirit has gifted us with.
At least for me, this has been a change in how I hear the Word and how I have found myself connected with the readings. I invite you to try it, too. Don’t worry if you remember the story from Sunday school, or whether you know anything about the prophet whose book the reading is from or about which letter of Paul’s the reading is from. Just let the Word of God wash over you as you would a beautiful symphony, and see what God might be saying to you this week.