When my friend Jane sings, I am often transported to her small Georgia hometown, to quiet streets of oak-shaded Victorian homes, to hot summer days and backyards navigated by bare feet, to tree houses, swishing brooms, and bike rides through piles of fallen leaves --- to everything that is the South --- even though her upbringing is percolated through years in cosmopolitan New York City, and even though I have never seen her hometown. I doubt you would make the same associations upon listening. Wherever they come from, these images belong to me. And what a gift they are.
As much as I enjoy film, the multi-sensory onslaught it represents isn't, oddly enough, as rich as the associations my mind makes when I read words on a page in a book, or hear a song like Jane's. In these settings, my collective memory, my own experience, supplies the images that a film spoon feeds me. The experience is, according to the late British author and playwright, Dorothy Sayers, reflective of the Trinity: there is the Idea, the Incarnation of that idea, and the Experience of the Incarnated Idea (or, as Sayers calls it, Idea, Energy, Power). My experience of the Idea incarnate in Jane's song is different than yours. My reflective reading of a book is something unique and not like yours. Film, on the other hand, despite its impact, seems to have a flattening effect --- my pictures become the same as yours. However we each envisioned Narnia before the films, it now pretty much looks the same. A multitude of images shrinks to one.
Lately, I have been practicing a slow reading of the Gospel of Mark. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark drops right in on an adult Jesus. His writing is marked by a sense of urgency and immediacy. His telling is that of an excited boy: John appeared, and then Jesus, and then he was baptized, and then the dove descended and God spoke, and then he was driven out into the wilderness, and then John was arrested, and then Jesus began his ministry. It's a breathless telling, a just-the-facts telling.
When the first disciples are called, the words are few and the response immediate. Come. Follow me. "And immediately they left their nets." There is no time to pack, no time to say goodbyes, no time to weigh the options. In the first chapter alone, Mark uses the word "immediately" nine times. Things are happening.
All this and we're not even out of Chapter One. Idea. Incarnation. Experience. The truth that Mark seeks to tell is mediated through his personality, and heard by me in the context of my experience, one unique to me and yet not unlike yours.
Whether in Holy Scripture, book, or song, by faith we believe that God superintends our experience. J.I Packer says about the Scriptures that "through a unique exercise of divine overruling in their composition, they are God's own testimony and teaching in human form." They are, in other words, His words, mediated through human personality and experience. And when we hear the Word, we receive it as filtered through our own experience, no less true for being so mediated, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12). God's providence is a working out of all things for the good of those who love him, a divine and hands-on management of his creation.
So while Scripture is uniquely God-breathed, there is a sense in which all of our experience is God-breathed. For the Christian, no matter what, God is in it. God inhabits our everyday. At the heart of every decision, every trial, every joy, every mundane detail or epiphany of life lies Christ --- the one who upholds and preserves all Creation. In the end, for the Christian all roads lead Home. Christ undergirds everything that happens to us.
Sometimes when Jane sings, I see the writer walking the Hudson River heights of Weehawken, New Jersey, or navigating the pedestrian traffic of midtown, or hear a voice singing in a Manhattan church. I look out at a larger horizon and wonder what God is doing, what amazing energy it must take to uphold all things. I see what she saw and yet what is uniquely mine. I trust that God superintends that seeing to His good end, to my good end.
I hear grace and peace. I sense the steady work of the Superintendent. I bet you would too, if you listen to your life.