My aunt introduced me to Shakespeare at a really early age by taking me both to the Oregon Shakespeare festival during summers and by having me sit in her lectures at a community college where she prepared her students for the plays they would see in Ashland. Even though I was only ten, with her helpful assistance I could ascertain when lovers were quarreling or when kings were preparing for war based on the actors’ body language, tone of voice and the words themselves. I was not a genius – I was simply exposed to Shakespeare’s plays the way they were meant to be consumed. Plays are meant to be seen and heard – not just read.
I’m beginning to think it is the same for the bible. The bible is a rich complicated text but how often are we taught to not only understand it but to embody it? And how do we truly understand it if we don’t embody it on some level?
When Juliet in the famed “Romeo and Juliet” says, “The clock struck nine when I did send thee nurse…” what she really means is,”Where the hell is the nurse? She’s late. She should have been here hours ago (with word about Romeo). What the ?????!” She is frustrated, impatient and irritable. Therefore the actress playing Juliet must understand the paraphrasing of this sentence and how it translates into the common vernacular so that when she speaks the more formal words, they are understood by the audience. And for high school students reading the play for basic English class, unless they take a stab at actually saying these words out loud, most likely the words will remain somewhat stiff and archaic, plus not mean much. This is kind of sad given that most teenagers could probably really relate to this scene if they actually understood it.
I wonder how much of the bible we’re not fully comprehending because we’re not speaking the words with our voices. If the word became flesh, shouldn’t we involve our own senses with it as well?
While studying Greek and Hebrew in seminary, I have found it necessary to read phrases out loud in order to learn the languages. And what a gift this has been for when reading a phrase in Greek or Hebrew, the language of the original biblical texts, they seem to seep into my cells in a way they don’t when I read silently in English. I cannot explain this phenomenon really but something happens on a deeper level allowing me to “soak” in the words’ message in a different way.
Now I am not saying that we all have to learn Greek and Hebrew as a pre-requisite for understanding the bible but I am encouraging that we read favorite texts out loud as if actors preparing for a scene. While doing so, it’s best to not assume a “performance” stance when reading. Instead we can take our time. We can think about what the words mean and slow down as we read, letting them roll off our tongues at their own pace. We can also select images that go with the words. For instance, if in Psalm 125, the line is, “Those who trust in the Lord are as Mt. Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever,” we can visualize a favorite mountain so that we can really take in the metaphor. When we do, we can see just how profound the words really are.
God gave us the power of the written word and the beauty of art. Why not let art inform the word and allow us to better understand Him, the Master Creator?