In the beginning was the spoken word
I'm not a great fan of top tips. You know the kind of thing: seven habits of effective leaders; six spiritual laws and five gold rings. I'm just not impressed by attempts to reduce wisdom to a few bullet points.
However I'm about to eat my words (or my shorts as Bart Simpson might say). Since 2008 two podcasts, broadcasted daily, have influenced me more than anything else. I wish I could say that they have made me the man I am today, but at best this would be hubris and at its worst, totally ridiculous. In other words this duet of habits haven't necessarily made me happier or better; but nevertheless they have created an ongoing revolution in my life and I'd like to tell you my story.
In March 2008 I was 48. Consistent with most of the other decades of my existence, my experience of the Bible was bulimic, binging through guilt followed by slow and equally self-condemning purgation. My problem was attention span. Sitting silently and studiously for 20 minutes each day waiting for celestial visions just wasn't me. I couldn't do it. Not that I'm a fidget, but my method of reading and study has always been interspersed with getting up and walking around.
Hence my first discovery in 2008: the one year Daily Audio Bible (http://dailyaudiobible.com). As its name indicates, this takes you through the Bible in a year. But it's a spoken and not a written experience. Launched by one time music producer Brian Hardin in 2006, it offers a daily staple diet of Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. It takes about 20 minutes each day and since my commencement I have been through the Bible five times.
And starting every new year with "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth", gives an inexplicable thrill every time I hear it. Along with hundreds of thousands of other members of this virtual community, the spoken word of God is being proclaimed in the midst of the bustle of everyday life.
Hearing the Bible is different to reading it. This library of books was written for an audience of listeners but we prefer the solitude of a bedroom to the intended environment of a noisy synagogue or church. It is a public compendium and not a series of secret, private documents.
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My second great find in 2008 was Pray As You Go (http://www.pray-as-you-go.org). This is produced by Jesuit Media Initiatives and since its trial in 2006 over five million daily podcasts have been uploaded. It follows the daily lectionary and consists of some music, prayers, questions and a daily Bible reading. Each episode averages about ten minutes and is designed to make the listener aware of God's presence and nearness.
But here's the twist; this is that makes this daily discipline so palatable for me. I can participate in these podcasts whilst doing something else. In my case this involves an early morning jog, dragging my middle aged body across a cycle track near to my home. Listening to the word of God, opening up to His presence whilst at the same time taking care of this earthly tent.
Now this may sound like torment. Maybe you're a linear thinker, logical and a natural student. Chances are you're probably a bit like me; your best thoughts come when you're doing something else. If so, these two podcasts could kick start your new year and help give your spirituality a better tone and shape.
And if you're not persuaded, give the spoken word of God a try. If faith comes by hearing, then it may be time to put the Bible back on the shelf and get your headphones on.