I am in a text group (if there’s such a term) with some distant relatives. There are five of us, none of us is younger than 74 or 75, and the eldest is 85. At 80, I think I’m in the middle. We are scattered from Florida to Georgia to Tennessee to Pennsylvania—and sometimes South Carolina contributes a bit. We don’t talk politics or pop culture or swap recipes. We pray.

So much sorrow and sickness is going on, either in our families or in ourselves, and during Hurricane Ian, there was serious danger to a grandson living in one of the worst hit towns, there was danger to another who lived in its path, and danger to a son who was with a Christian disaster relief group. And there is sorrow. One of our number lost a daughter this year, I lost my beloved 13-year-old terrier, and one daughter is in danger from a violent-tempered ex-husband. Sickness—I have a pending lung cancer diagnosis, a cousin has received an abdominal cancer diagnosis, a husband is living with severe heart disease for which the only help would be open heart surgery that he is too old and frail now to undergo, and our senior member has a diagnosed cancer for which she’s decided a third round of chemo is one round too many. She’s doing well right now, and our prayer is that this continue so long as the Lord wills it so. And there are other sad or fearsome situations. We pray and we ask for prayer.

One of our number who was almost surrounded by crises sent a rather long text listing them all and then concluded by saying: “Thanks for listening with your eyes.” I was struck by that phrase. It’s true. We listen with our eyes when we read, when we really read. When we attend, comprehend, and assimilate, that’s what we do—we listen. “Let him who has ears….” I am a very slow reader. I once timed myself and I read about 25 pages an hour of standard prose. That’s slow—especially for an English Lit. major. Once while I was in grad school, I had to read Tristram Shandy in a weekend–over 800 pages of 18th century English prose. Nothing to do but groan and know I would have to read round the clock. I asked the professor if I should take the speed-reading course offered on campus. He responded, “Definitely not!”

I’m so glad I didn’t. Somehow I managed not only to survive but to survive with summa. Years later, I was reading, slowly as always, one of C.S. Lewis’ books—I think it was a collection of letters; Lewis devotees will know—in which he advises a young girl to “read aloud in her head”. Well, yes. That describes exactly how I’d always read, and it explains why I read so slowly. I hear what I read. And that has made all the difference. In especially beautiful prose, like George Eliot’s, for example, I re-read. I might read a paragraph of hers three times before proceeding, just to hear the music. And when the music and the meaning are wed, in Shakespeare for example, the experience is like a symphony. I listen with my eyes and hear what I read.