Tag Archives: Bible on audio

As with marrow and fatness.

The Psalms of the Bible are the poetry that I am focusing on this year in National Poetry Month. They are helping me to also keep a Lenten focus. I’ve had my eye on two Psalms in particular that I wanted to memorize, but deliberately working at memorizing  seems to “not be happening.” Maybe if I at least read them (a little) more frequently some of the lines and verses will start to stick. I love this green pocket Psalter so much. It is from Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

For years I’ve also made heavy use of a recording of the Ancient Faith Psalter, available from Audible. Before John Oliver begins the actual reading, there is this encouraging introduction from Fr. Michael Gillis, which I have transcribed:

Introduction to the Ancient Faith Psalter

The Psalter is a prayer book for the church. It has been so before there was a Christian church. There is an ancient saying attributed to St. Athanasius the Great that the Psalms are different from the rest of Scripture in that while the rest of Scripture speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us. When we pray the Psalms we are praying the words God has given us to pray.

It has also said that the whole story of God’s dealing with Israel is an allegory of each person’s spiritual journey, the story of God’s dealing with every human soul. Therefore, inasmuch as the Psalms sum up and interpret the story of Israel, the Psalms also sum up and interpret the spiritual journey of every human being. The Psalms touch every experience of human life in our fallen world; every joy and every terror, every fear and every hope are found expressed in the Psalms. Some Psalms are beautiful, to the point of seeming sentimental. Other Psalms are bloody and apparently vindictive.

Such a range of emotion and experience is offered to us in prayer because in some inner or outer way, at some time in our life we will all experience this full range of thoughts and feelings. In fact, because some of these thoughts and feelings are so extreme, so evidently horrible, it is only through praying the Psalms that we come to realize and then confess both to ourselves and to God in prayer that yes, even such terrible things as these at one time or another have passed through our minds and perhaps even our hands.

This literal reading of the Psalms however is only the beginning. As one prays the Psalms one soon begins to realize that the enemy, the Amalekite or the Philistine, the nations that rage against God, are not people or situations outside myself, but are most poignantly referring to the wicked impulses and evil thoughts that I must battle within myself. The psalmist’s cry for deliverance becomes my own as I see within my own heart and mind the struggle between good and evil; the betraying thought, the accusing word, or the mocking laugh.

The Psalms give us words, images and metaphors by which we can cry out to God for help in the midst of our inner struggles. What the psalmist describes as external speaks to our internal struggles, because all outer conflict is a reflection of an inward struggle. Is this not what Jesus told us when he said it is out of the heart that murders and adultery flow?

The Psalter is a prophetic book; it is prophetic of Christ but it also speaks prophetically of all who are in Christ. Just as “strong bulls” surround Christ on the Cross, so too all who pick up their cross and follow Christ experience in one form or another this attack of the strong, and come to know their own weakness in resisting it, their own need to be delivered from the “power of the dog,” “the mouth of the lion” and “the horns of the wild bulls.” Similarly, the prophetic declaration of the Resurrection of Christ, “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered;” this also is our declaration as we experience moments of deliverance and help over our inner enemies.

The Psalms speak of God and man, Christ and Christian, inner and outer conflict, victory and defeat, heaven and earth, wisdom and foolishness. With few words and much meaning, the Psalms provide the images and words for every prayer, every need, every celebration on our journey through this world.

-Fr. Michael Gillis

How Not to Use the Vernacular

In those long-ago days when new cars had built-in cassette players and we were a large homeschooling family, I invested in a set of tapes of the New Testament, narrated by Alexander Scourby. Those were the only straight readings of the Bible I heard until last week, when I popped The Message into my CD player.

Eugene Petersen is a man whom I admire and respect. The first I ever heard his name was as the author of a book with a compelling title, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. To hear him speak, as I have recently on the Mars Hill Audio publications, is to know that he has received a goodly share of grace and wisdom from God. In introductions to the recordings he explains that his motives for writing The Message paraphrase of the Bible were to make it accessible to the everyday English speaker as a “reading Bible,” to introduce them to God’s words and God’s ways, with prayers that they would go on to read a study Bible, and learn to participate in the life of God.

A couple of years ago I read a few passages in the printed version of his translation, as he loosely calls it, and was neither impressed nor offended. But I’m past the stage of needing an introduction, so I didn’t pay much attention. I bought the recording because it was the least expensive experiment I could make in a newer format, and I didn’t imagine that the experience would be so far removed from listening to Alexander Scourby.

It was only a year ago that Scourby read the entire gospel of Matthew to me while I was driving to the mountains and back in my old car. It was a flood of God’s blessing to hear that much of the earthly life of my Lord — His words, His being the Word — in one sitting, and I thought my heart would burst with the overflow. The several hours’ drive was over before I knew it.

But the narrator of The Message series makes me remember why we always chant or sing the Scripture in the Orthodox Church. The first portion I listened to was Matthew’s gospel, in which John the Baptist and Jesus appear early on, and the narrator gives them the voice and intonation of an actor over-dramatizing his role. In tone, it is so not the vernacular, unless you are a football coach at half-time when your team is losing, or a political talk-show host on a rant. To have the words of Christ spoken that way is to make Him out to be a cheerleader or an ad-man. Even the most Pentecostal preachers I have heard do not speak with such urgency through their whole sermon.

If only Eugene Peterson had been the one to read aloud his rendition of the Bible. He would not have been capable of such a style, nor would he have thought it necessary. He knows that the words of God do not need hepping up. Let your yea be yea and your nay, nay. But he speaks more slowly even than Scourby, whose pace sacrifices speed to dignity.

I had to dig out our old cassettes to check who the narrator was, and then I googled his name. Wikipedia says, “Although Scourby made voice recordings of over 500 different books, he considered the Bible to be his most important,” saying “‘…it is the one book that has the power to inspire, encourage, comfort and change the life of the person who hears it.'”

The Orthodox believe that worship services should be in the language of the people, the vernacular, so priests and missionaries through history made great efforts and sacrifices to translate the Bible and prayer books. St. Innocent is one I have heard the most about; he traveled by kayak all over the frozen north to minister to the native peoples of Alaska, and learned several languages besides his native Russian.

But we do not read the Scriptures aloud in church in the tones of our everyday speech, even though the words are in our respective languages. If you do that, it is nearly impossible not to emphasize one word over another and lend changeable meaning to the sentences depending on who you are and what assumptions and personality, not to say errors and misunderstandings, you bring with you. The only way to let the words speak for themselves is to chant or sing them without emphasizing one over another.

Scourby was Greek and baptized Orthodox. I wonder if he had a sense of how to read the Bible from hearing it chanted or sung in his youth. His reading resembles the way many ministers in Protestant and even Evangelical churches used to read, and I’m sure some still do, not with a lot of expression, but clearly and reverently.

And why did someone decide to intersperse jaunty electronic quiz-show music in between some tracks? Is that supposed to be the vernacular as well? Petersen says that he wants people to become familiar with “the way God speaks,” and he wants us to be mindful that God in the Incarnation did not take “the role of a sophisticated intellectual.” The style of The Message‘s narrator may not be sophisticated, but it is affected and distracting.

Not that I would give anyone even Alexander Scourby’s Bible readings with the thought that they could know from them alone what Petersen calls “God’s grand rule of love and justice.” God has spoken through His Son, the Word, and the words of the Bible testify that it is the Church, not the scriptures, that is “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:23) The Church is the only context in which one can learn and live the full meaning of Holy Scripture.

The Scourby readings were, it seems until recently, available for listening for free online. They have been replaced with readings by another man; I haven’t tried them yet.  Audio-Bible provides those new readings online and sells recordings of Alexander Scourby’s Bible in various modern formats. I can see making that investment at a future date. And for the present, I have a portable cassette player for playing my valuable antiques.