Wineskins Archive

February 4, 2014

Reading Mark’s Gospel Aloud (Jul-Aug 2005)

Filed under: — @ 7:03 pm and

by Sara Barton
July – August, 2005

When I read books to my children, I become convinced that I am a professional-rate reader. I sometimes wonder why producers of books on tape don’t call me to do readings. I do deep male voices, high-pitched female voices, squeaky children’s voices, foreign accents, scary bad guy voices, a crackly grandmotherly voice, and a fairly good “Ho Ho Ho” for Santa Claus himself. My all-time best voice is a tired and bored Horton the Elephant in Horton Hatches the Egg.

I value reading aloud to my children for several reasons. It’s quality time together. It’s not TV. It passes on a love for books that has been in me since a child. It teaches lessons and initiates valuable conversation. But, really, the main reason I read aloud to them is because they love it. Their eyes light up. They laugh. They gasp. They clap. They hide behind me for protection from the gigantic snake in the Harry Potter series. (They prefer that I mention that the Harry Potter snake scene was from a book several years ago and they are too big for that kind of response now.) They get carried away in the story. I love reading to them because they respond to the words and ideas.

Unfortunately, reading aloud is relegated almost exclusively to the situation I’ve just described: children’s books and children’s entertainment. And, sadly, somewhere around ten or twelve years old, we all grow too old for oral reading, what we perhaps consider a children’s game.

My family and I served as missionaries in Uganda for several years, and I found that in pre-literate cultures, the art of good reading is not relegated to a children’s world. A good reader reads Scripture to a congregation, and the congregation listens with response, with eyes and ears open, listens with engaged posture and their hands cupped to their ears or heads cocked. A bad reader reads, and congregants are bored and lost, disconnected from the words on the page.

In Uganda, reading is seen as a spiritual gift, one that can be useful in the church, much like we might consider preaching and teaching to be spiritual gifts. A gifted reader is a valuable asset to the church community. Christians don’t have a Bible of their own, and even if they did, many do not have the education to be able to read it. So, these Christians hear God’s word only when it is read, and a gifted reader can open Scripture to them in amazing ways.

Let me take this page, really just a few images on a computer screen or perhaps on a printed piece of paper if you’ve gone to the trouble to print this article, to encourage you to read the Gospel of Mark aloud. Read to yourself. Read to your spouse. Read to your children. Read to your Sunday school class. Read to your congregation.

Mark was written in such a way that it can be heard in the space of about two hours. The gospel reads as much like a movie script as anything. From early images that Mark skillfully paints, we feel the dryness of the desert, we hear the voice of one calling out, and we sense that this character, John is leading us beyond the first scene to the rest of the story. From the beginning, a reader wants to know more, wants to know what comes next, wants to enter the drama of this page-turner.

I recently heard someone read several chapters of Mark’s gospel, a reading of over thirty minutes, and it was done in such a way that I felt I was there. I felt that I was in the moment. I saw the action. I experienced the drama. I entered the conversations. And, when it ended, immediately, I was disappointed and wished for more.

Good reading should be a priority among us. The word of God should be read with more care and attention than any other book we own. The gift of reading Scripture well should be valued as highly as the gifts of preaching and teaching. We should read at church for the same reasons I read to my children at home: because good reading evokes response. And Scripture itself leads to the responses which God desires. It seems to me, that the gospel of Mark is the place to start. The fast-paced gospel, the movie script, the missionary gospel, the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. New Wineskins

Sara BartonSara Barton currently serves as Campus Minister for Rochester College in Rochester Hills, Michigan. She and her husband, John, have two children, Nate and Brynn. The Barton family lived and worked as part of a church planting mission team in Uganda, East Africa before moving to Michigan.

E-mail [Sara Barton]

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