A BELOVED FRIEND OF MINE, an author, has listened to the audio version of my TYNDALE book more than thirty times. Perhaps forty. Though the count changes every time we speak, it is not an exaggeration. On his Florida trips, which he takes often, he listens to the entire eleven hours of audio, cover to cover, from Lebanon, Tennessee to somewhere in Florida. I try not to show too much excitement when he brings it up, but it is not easy. A compliment that warm, that unique, and that unexpected, is rare.
My suspicion is that it is something he hears, that calls him back again. And again. True to the whimsical nature of charm, sometimes we won't know why we are attracted to a text or to a writer's voice. We just know it when we hear it.
Part of the attraction is the reader himself. One of the most formidable voiceover talents on the planet, Simon Vance @SimVan [Blackstone Audio] read TYNDALE the way I heard it, as if he had crept into my head, or better yet, as if he had heard my voice. A true artist, Simon moves with an actor’s finesse through each line, with all the conventions of drama, and yet with an even justice, that is, without spoiling the illusion that it is a book one is listening to. Readers of this stature are rare. They also bring out the best in a book. Simon sure did. Again, it is something he hears, the peculiar way he hears it, and he has the tools, the natural gifts that allow the rest of us to hear it. A soft cry just underneath a text. A peal of thunder. A music you think you hear but are not quite sure you hear, though you want nothing more than to hear it again. And again.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
—William Shakespeare, THE TEMPEST 3.2.146-152.
I cried to dream again . . . The point of this article may be how we listen, how we are tuned, why some things move us and others do not, how ghostlike and whimsical charm can be, how words play together, how they perform as a company, how convincingly they persuade the senses, how well they breathe with the reader.
The recording below is taken from the introduction to CH. 4 of TYNDALE; THE MAN WHO GAVE GOD AN ENGLISH VOICE, "Language Is The Only Homeland." It's me reading me. The music and the images provide a stage, an elevation, another way to listen. We could add, and from the text itself, that "sight comes by another method, by a deeper, more reliable sense." And something rolls gently and darkly beneath it.
CHAPTER 4: LANGUAGE IS THE ONLY HOMELAND
Of all in this world who are deserving of compassion, the most to be pitied are those who, languishing in exile, never see their country again, save in dreams.
— Dante Alighieri, Convivio
BETWEEN IMAGINATION AND FAITH there exists a kind of twilight. That simply means in the divide between them, eyes are irrelevant. Sight comes by another method, by a deeper, more reliable sense. “We walk in faith and see not” (2 Corinthians 5:7 TNT). As Tyndale crosses the Narrow Seas to Germany and to the other side of his life, he is traveling somewhat blind into his future. He is alone, but life has prepared him to be alone. He has always been alone. And though exile cannot help but have some government over his thoughts, we may gather from what little we have seen of him that he is self-possessed, as a friend loyal. Attachments are not uncommon.
William Tyndale is a force of English refashioning and reimagining, scrapping its way, as it was, out of the middle ages. An old world is dismantling, and that makes him a threat. Even he knows this. He hopes to remain hidden under the cover of obscurity. And for at least one long productive season this will work for him. The way before him is not clear, and all he takes with him is the hope of his English translation.
We may imagine him having translated much of the Scripture before leaving England. The quiet country retreat of Little Sodbury Manor, his upper room overlooking distant Wales and the Severn may have given it a start—or a garret in Monmouth’s London home. An English Scripture is his only distraction, the only lash that drives him.
There is a thrill beneath it all, a frisson, something you can almost feel, that shudders beneath the ice. A dark thrill certainly, and deadly, but it will do no harm to his art. The conditions actually liberate him and work in his favor.
Of course, he doesn’t know he will never see England again or that in little more than a decade he will be dead. But every day he lives with that possibility. He is pew-fellow with death. He knows nothing. Everything he does now is by a faith that eclipses all of life, which overwhelms it and infuses his work. We will see the result in his writing. He lives by a fine nerve, one that heightens everything around him, that enhances life, and no artist can leave these things undone, or without expression.
What he sees, he sees clearly. What he hears, he articulates clearly, precisely, with an all-or-nothing kind of resolve. And England is never so sure to him as she is in his absence from her.
The act of letting go, of leaving home, of daring new landscapes and negotiating new tongues, drives his convictions deeper. It is a desperate energy that moves him forward.
* To purchase audio of TYNDALE: THE MAN WHO GAVE GOD AN ENGLISH VOICE