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Sensing scripture
'Reading scripture with your senses'

By Maggie Williams
8/7/2003
[Triennial Today] 

The Rev. Roger Ferlo thinks the idea of “reading scripture with all our senses” gives an additional dimension to understanding those words.

Using the five senses — hearing, smell, taste, touch and sight — Ferlo asked participants in his session during the Episcopal Church Women Triennial that bear the same name as one of his books, Sensing God, to think about how those senses add to the perception of anything experienced. Then, he said, if those same senses are used to experience scripture, the message comes alive.

Ferlo, rector of the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in New York City and a deputy to General Convention from New York, said most people have forgotten that, up until the 15th century, scripture was read aloud and was experienced by the act of hearing.

He used the cello music of Yo Yo Ma to demonstrate the idea that, when music is played, it moves from a printed page, where is it seen, to the sound of the instrument manipulated by the touch of the person playing it. At each step, the sensory perception is changed, he said. And when a performance is experienced, it changes the perception again to a new type of experience.

“When you look at the idea that when you read aloud, in company, the experience is much more involved than reading silently, it gains new meaning,” he said.

Of smell, Ferlo said the action of smelling something is often that “we stop and think.” The sense of smell then can be associated with moments at the threshold, he said, where a decision is made to turn back or continue.

When it comes to touch, Ferlo said there are many instances recounted in the Bible where Jesus invites those around him to touch him. Those touches heal and sometimes — as in the story of Thomas wanting to feel the wounds of the crucified Christ — allow someone to see something they might not otherwise believe.

Ferlo said that, while some senses are stronger than others throughout scripture, thinking of scripture in more sensory terms provides them with a new strength.

“I think the stories become more immediate when you think in terms of smell, taste, sight, sound and touch,” he said.