I know I must have been read to on some occasion since I was a child.
I do not mean the kind of reading to which I listen most Sunday mornings when someone looks out over a lectern and shares the scripture passage assigned for that day’s service. Nor do I mean the reading by which a scholar in a lecture hall models for me and others the intonations best suited to unlock the message of a famous orator or poet.
No, for the old-fashioned kind of reading I mean, it will help to picture a Victorian parlor or rustic New England hearthside. Watch the scene unfold as one person, holding open a book or balancing it on her lap, reads while a companion rests his chin on his hand or perhaps closes his eyes, leans his head to the side and listens.
Being read to: it was one of the activities by which an individual during convalescence might pass the time with a minimum of fatigue. My own mind left to wander, however, and my strength of concentration nothing close to what it usually is, I would tire quickly of such bedside readers. I suspect I would even grow depressed imagining how fast I could have gotten through the same page or chapter on my own if I were only once again in the pink of health.
If I go to these examples, I am attempting to explain a kind of reading I am enjoying these days with a particular friend. Sharing a background in teaching and theology, we have taken to choosing books of reflection, spending some time during our visits reading a text aloud to one another. We alternate paragraphs, moving between reading and listening, keeping a steady rhythm, neither rushing nor indulging any excess of expressiveness.
We started with Father James Martin’s My Life with the Saints. We have just finished the opening chapter of Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor.
Neither of us proceeds under the misapprehension that the other could not understand the text perfectly well on his own. The experiment involves observing how making our way through a text with a companion in tow takes on for each of us a bit of the flavor of the companion’s emotional and spiritual journey. We listen and manage to hear more than the author’s words. We hear a friend when he does not get to choose the words by which he will communicate.
It is a subtle flavoring that I am talking about, to be sure. There are times, however, when I look up and wonder why I would not have asked for this pleasure before from other friends in my life.
I am enjoying being read to again.