I think the first book I remember reading, where I felt I had a movie camera in my head so that I could picture the characters, the scenery or the action, was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I was about 11. It may be that I had seen the movie, but whether or not I had, I could also pick up the drama in the dialogue and loved reading it aloud. It was like being there. Through the years, I have wondered if other people had that ability too, to picture the story as though they were watching a movie.
It is possible that all writers wish for that phenomena to be connected with our writing. Even if the writing is not fiction, even if there are no pictures. We hope our readers will feel as though they are seeing in real time the thing you are describing. That pondering seascapes, or recipes, that we almost imagine getting our feet dirty on the wet, squishy sand where the waves just retreated to the sea. We can imagine aromas of buttery cinnamon rolls while reading the recipe. Words and names that reel us in seem to take on a life of their own. Characters described in devastating detail, flaws, failures and successes, to say nothing of wardrobe, make seem them real to us. Words becoming flesh.
That is how John, the Gospel writer, whoever he was, described Jesus. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”(John 1:14) So in Christian churches, we use words like “Word;” we say “Jesus is the Word of God.” It is what we mean when using the word “incarnation” Jesus, who we believe is God, took on our humanity, became fully human.
Raised on my mother’s stories, of growing up in poverty, hiding from the men who came to turn off the utilities, of being a young working adult during the Depression, and the stories that she read to me, I have always loved words. It must have been from a young age because my father said when I was born, I was vaccinated with a Victrola needle.
I flirted with forms of writing; poetry, greeting cards, writing one-liners, or puns. In school, college and beyond, I preferred writing papers to objective tests. Before I ever thought of writing stories of any type, or essays, I loved to play with words. Like dice (die) in a Parchisi cup that you roll around in the cup and shake it carefully covered, back and forth, before spilling the die onto the game board, I like to savor words like that. To play with the combinations, to roll them around in my mouth, or in my mind, before letting them spill out onto the paper to take on a life of their own.
Looking back, I realize that approached the stories in the Bible in a similar way. Savoring the stories, taking the time to read, reflect and wrestle with them. Seeking understanding, inspiration. and connection. I did not walk around with an open Bible in my hands, but after closing the cover of my Bible, and walking away, continued to wonder about what it all meant. It was a way to allow the story to germinate, and eventually flower.
While there were many people and events that influenced my faith development as a young Christian, there were two in particular who helped me to connect with the Bible in a way that was both introductory and transformative: one of them was my Aunt Millie.
I was raised Roman Catholic in a time when Catholics were not encouraged to read the Bible. It was believed we might interpret it incorrectly, so it was best left to the experts. But my Aunt Millie, was a Bible Reading Catholic, and when I visited her at a particularly difficult time in my life, in my early 20’s, she would read to me. She read a lot of different things, but the one thing that stood out was Isaiah 43:1, “Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you…I have called you by your name (and) you are mine.” She would read that and say, ‘Listen to this, Michele. Isn’t it wonderful?
She had a large banner in the upstairs hallway with those words on it, (I Have Called You by Your Name…). When my then husband and I moved to Florida, she gave us a box of Christmas Decorations, that included two white styrofoam balls with gold trim (Chrismons) with the words from Isaiah 43:1b, and our names. So it read, “I have called you by your name, Michele and you are mine.”
Looking back now, I wonder if her creative connection with the text had a subtle influence on my relationship with the Bible, and my faith as a Christian. It certainly was the start of any real engagement the Bible on my part, that led to a pattern of reading, reflecting, wrestling, wondering as well as a deep longing to share the fruit of all that reflection with anyone who was willing to hear. I would write these ideas down and sometimes tentatively share them with a friend. These were the seeds of my own call to preach.
As I write, I realize that my experience with the Bible and the Christian faith is not everyone’s experience. Sadly, I have friends, and probably family whose only experience of the Bible is one that has been weaponized and used against them. Sorrow over this misuse of the Bible does not begin to cover it. But I also write as a Christian pastor, committed to studying, gleaning and sharing the stories in the Bible for insight, not for weaponry.
Use Your Words
I have a good friend who was a kindergarten teacher for several years. long after that, when dealing with her dog she would say to him, “Use Your Words” Not unlike a parent, dealing with a toddler who would rather scream or point instead of speaking plainly.
What draws me to stories of any kind, regardless of genre, is character, and whether or not I can care about the character, and if the author shows some type of character transformation. But what draws me to reading stories, has more to do with how an author uses their words. I do not aspire to doing book reviews, but let me just say that I find some authors captivating, because of the way they choose and use their words. Perhaps it is because they instinctively know that books were meant to be read aloud.
One book that comes to mind is “Giver of Stars” by Jo Jo Moyes. While this book has a lot to recommend it, it is the phrasing, the delicious concoction of words that kept me wanting more. Forgive me for not providing examples, but that would turn into a literary analysis, and a very different piece of writing. While what I felt was the beauty of her writing did not distract me from the story, there are times I find myself listening just for the words themselves.
My husband has teased me for years, saying that he can see my lips move when I read. But books were meant to be read aloud. If that is not so, then the first books that were written, were only the private treasure of the very few people who could read and afford a book. Try to wrap your mind around the number of books that were written prior to the invention of the printing press that made books plentiful. I doubt that many writers exercise their craft in the hopes that only one or two people will read their work.
The stories in the Bible, when they were finally written down, were likewise meant to be read aloud and for similar reasons. Few people could read, fewer still could afford to own the books or scrolls on which the stories were written.
When we read silently, no matter what the book, or article, we tend to skim. And in skimming, we miss the poetry and music of the words on the printed page.
I doubt that most people read books or articles aloud, but I listen to more books than I read. I got hooked on audiobooks when I was driving three hours one-way to seminary. I had three library cards to support my audio book habit, through my four years of seminary. I still use audio books on short and long trips, when I am by myself, and they have given me an appreciation for the sounds of the written words.
What about you? If you are a blogger, what is your writing process? Do you write the same time every day, at the same place? And, whether you are a writer or not, what draws you to a certain author or genre?
There is more to come,
Not holding back the tide,
Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com