For the past six weeks, I’ve been teaching a grad class on spiritual formation. (One simple definition? “The process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others” from Robert Mulholland in Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation.)
One thing we did every week was to listen to a long reading from the Bible. By long, I mean more than a few sentences or paragraphs. By listen, I mean an individual or several individuals read the text.
We heard from Paul, from some mostly anonymous songwriters, from Jesus, from Stephen, and from God, by way of Isaiah. We read well, often practicing beforehand. We read deliberately. We left space for reflection. We prayed for direction.
And then I usually asked, “What did you hear?”
Because many of us are used to reading silently, and discussing at the sentence level, or even word level, hearing shakes us up. We notice a flow, we participate more slowly, we find things unfolding. Rather than skimming, we must wait. When we discuss we know that everyone just heard the same thing.
The students are working on master’s degrees in ministry. They have read the Bible before. But hearing it, listening together, brings to our attention relationships of ideas that we haven’t noticed before.
It is important to read and study small bits. It happened with the early church. The New Testament letters were kept. They were studied. They were copied and circulated. That’s why we have them.
But there is also value hearing a letter all at once. It helps us remember that a real people guided by a real God wrote real letters to real people who wanted to understand how to follow that real God. In other words, people like us.
Here is the list of readings.
- The Letter to the Colossians.
- Psalms 120-134, subtitled “the songs of ascent”
- Matthew 5-7, known as “The Sermon on the Mount”
- Acts 6-7, which is the story of Stephen.
- Isaiah 58
- Revelation 2-3, known as the letters to the seven churches.