Bible Noise is a new collaboration between sound artist Sunil Chandy and engageworship. It offers fresh approaches and resources for engaging with the Bible as it is read in community. It combines creative, usable ideas with an expectation that God will speak through his word and his people. 

In the video interview below you can get to know Sunil a bit better, and an outline of what Bible Noise is about. Then the following article delves deeper into the concepts behind reading aloud.
 

 

"Then God said…" (Gen 1:3)

The Bible is full of sound. God speaks creation into being in the beginning and from then on scripture is filled with God and his people speaking, arguing, crying out, shouting and singing. The Bible overflows with sound as God sends his resounding word to all parts of creation. And creation responds back. For us humans this is through songs that form a significant part of the Bible. The Bible tells a story both loud and quiet echoing across time the sounds of God, his people and the rest of creation.

And yet…

Do we use sound to engage with the Bible? In our screen obsessed world do we still take time to hear scripture? After all, the books of the Bible were written down in order to be heard. Hearing is how large parts of the church engaged with the Bible as Rowan Williams says: ‘for most Christians throughout the ages and probably most in the world at present, the norm is listening.’ [Rowan Williams, ‘“The Bible Today: Reading & Hearing” - The Larkin-Stuart Lecture’, 16 April 2007.] In other words, the Bible is not only filled with sound but it is through sound that we access it. Today however, we mostly engage with the Bible with our eyes by reading it in a printed version or on the phone. Printing in some ways has silenced the reading aloud of scripture. There is nothing inherently wrong with printing; its uses are beyond numerous. But by no longer paying so much attention to hearing scripture with our ears and speaking it with our voices, we might be missing something.

Perhaps it will be helpful to reflect what happens when we read scripture aloud:

  1. Physical The words through sound vibrations come to us from the voice of the reader outside us, move towards us and then enter our bodies. Hearing is in this sense a dynamic activity.
  2. Communal The words come from the voice of another person. Hearing a reading means that someone else is reading aloud words written by yet another person. We are not alone in this reading.
  3. Breathed The words come by the breath of the one who reads which is a metaphor for how the Spirit brings the words of God to us. ‘All scripture is God-breathed’ says the apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy. Hearing scripture being read aloud is an experience of breath, from the origins of the sound, its travel and its arrival.

I’m not saying that engaging the Bible with our ears and voices is somehow spiritually superior or better. What I’m saying is that engaging the Bible through sound is different to engaging it primarily with our eyes.

As an example, have a listen to this clip of a 7-year old reading a passage from John 1:1-14 (this video can be downloaded to use in worship here).
 


Do you feel the age of the reader changes the way you listen in any way?

There are different times where she hesitates or falters at different words. Does this distract you from the text or does it change your attention to it?

Would you normally expect a different voice to read such a text? What kind of voice would that be? And why do you think that is?

My emphasis on sound in engaging the Bible is a way to draw attention to something that fed us in the past, but which today we might be neglecting in our present-day engagement of the Bible. I used the phrase ‘fed us’ just now and this was a metaphor used by many monastic communities. Their engagement with scripture was described as ‘eating,’ ‘chewing’ and ‘digesting’ God’s word. The following paragraph from the book Reading to Live: The Evolving Practice of Lectio Divina by the theologian Raymond Studzinski shows us how the monastics approached scripture with their whole body:

"The book, for monastics, did not serve as a storehouse for text but as a window on the world and God. The book was a vineyard or a garden where one could go to gather wisdom. Reading, because it was done aloud, had a social and physical dimension. Since a person mouthed the words, part of their impact came from hearing them. One chewed and digested them, as it were, so that they became part of oneself. A reader responded to how they felt to the mouth, to the ears, to the eyes. Reading involved the physical; it engaged the body." Raymond Studzinski, Reading to Live the Evolving Practice of Lectio Divina (Kentucky: Cistercian Publications, 2009), page 14.

Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) is a historical Christian practice that used our different bodily senses to read the Bible. Sound forms an important part of that. People who practice Lectio Divina take small portions of scripture and sound them, vocalise them repeatedly. This is done in order to reflect, meditate and understand God’s word. Why can’t we just read the Bible, just read and understand the words and sentences? Why spend so much time slowing down our reading by reading aloud and repeating it? Those who practice Lectio Divina do this because we believe the Bible to be more than a set of words, stories and songs. We believe the Bible to be transformational and lifegiving. The monastics were concerned not just with ‘the ability decipher the words that letters stand for, but also the ability to extract lifegiving meaning from those words.’ [Studzinski, page 7.] By taking time involving our physical senses in the reading of the Bible, the monastics hoped to reach for the lifegiving sense of the Bible.

Lectio Divina as an established practice gives us a good starting point to explore and experiment with different possibilities in reading aloud the Bible. Over the next few months I will post articles around this question: What happens when we pay greater attention to the Bible in and through sound? From this question others pop up. Does the reader’s voice and reading make a difference? Is a low slow voice the best way to hear scripture? Would a heavy Indian accent (like mine!) change the feeling or sense of the text? These differences might be subtle but in paying attention to them, they might reveal new things about us and God’s world, as we hear his word read to us.

Next time you hear the Bible read aloud try and listen out for a few things:

Is the reader bringing the words to life?

Is it too slow? Too fast?

Does the voice of the reader communicate anything to you?