For all the wonder of modern technology, with its immediacy and convenience, its mix of word and image, nothing comes close to the sheer beauty of a book. I won’t even say ‘the humble book’ because books should be proud of all they have contributed to enabling women and men and children to learn and grow, express emotions and feel them, test out ideas that seem worthy, and destroy those whose acceptance would diminish what it means to be fully human.
Books are objects of beauty too. Book covers alone are as rich with potential as an artist’s canvas. The pages even lend themselves effortlessly to the reader making margin notes, drawings, exclamation marks and underlines, a language all of its own! The slowly yellowing pages reminiscent of a good wine ageing gracefully. And the wonderful smells, from the chemical pungency of inks fresh from the press to the musty whiff of darkened libraries – O such sweet perfume!
But books are worthless without a reader, and we readers are as varied as the objects of our desire. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it impossible to read one book at a time, unless its a novel when I’m more likely to ration myself to one. But for non-fiction, 2-3 books at a time is the norm. One by the bed, one in the living room, one in my bag and so on.
And in this chemistry between writer and reader, there is the limitless possibility of mysterious encounter.
But when we consider the Bible there is a third dimension. There is Word, there is Reader (or Listener), but there is also Interpreter.
Which brings me to one of my current books, one that’s been on my shelves for over 10 years until I realised last week that I’d never finished reading it! "Finally Comes the Poet - Daring speech for proclamation" by Walter Brueggemann challenges those of us who preach to recognise our calling to be poets in a world of prose.
He reminds us in a mouth-watering introduction that “the gospel is too readily heard and taken for granted, as though it contained no unsettling news and no unwelcome threat. What began as news... is easily assumed, slotted, and conveniently dismissed. We depart having heard, but without noticing the urge to transformation that is not readily compatible with our comfortable believing that asks little and receives less.
The gospel is thus a truth widely held, but a truth greatly reduced. It is a truth that has been flattened, trivialized, and rendered inane. Partly, the gospel is simply an old habit among us, neither valued nor questioned. But more than that, our technical way of thinking reduces mystery to problem, transforms assurance into certitude, revises quality into quantity, and so takes the categories of biblical faith and represents them in manageable shapes”.
Later he adds “To address the issue of a truth greatly reduced requires us to be poets that speak against a prose world... By prose I refer to a world that is organized in settled formulae so that even pastoral prayers and love letters sound like memos. By poetry, I do not mean rhyme, rhythm or meter but... language that moves, that... jumps at the right moment, that breaks open old worlds with surprise, abrasion and pace. Poetic speech is the only proclamation worth doing in a situation of reductionism, the only proclamation, I submit, worthy of the name ‘preaching’.
Such preaching is not moral instruction or problem solving or doctrinal clarification. It is not good advice, nor is it romantic caressing, nor is it a soothing good humour. It is, rather, the ready, steady, surprising proposal that the real world in which God invites us to live is not the one made available by the rulers of this age.
The preacher has an awesome opportunity to offer an evangelical world... shaped by the news of the gospel. This offer requires special care for words, because the baptized community awaits speech in order to be a faithful people.
The Bible is our firm guarantee that in a world of technological naïveté and ideological reductionism, prophetic construals of another world are still possible, still worth doing, still longingly received by those who live at the edge of despair, resignation, and conformity. Our preferred language is to call such speech prophetic, but we might also term it poetic. p 1-4
I haven’t finished it yet but I am reminded again of the wonderful gift of books, the privilege of being a reader, and in the case of God’s Word, the responsibility to be a poet!