I’m not particularly religious, but I’ve always been intrigued by old recordings of the sermons of evangelical preachers. The best are incredibly nuanced and inherently dramatic. They have an aspect of music, as all great public speaking does. And when the preachers truly get going, their breathing becomes audible, the interlacing of inhalation and exhalation apparent. In fact, they bring great attention to it.
I’ve always thought of this as an effort to ease the congregation into a pattern of respiration, to draw the group into a unified breath. In those moments, the congregation could become one body, sharing this singular breath in the same way they might when they sing together.
I think the same gesture is there in a story. The best writing has a unique rhythm which insinuates itself in the reading. It’s within this rhythm, this breath, that we come together as readers, and as writers.
Within the story, each reads in their own way. I can imagine it as a sort of scattered chorus, dotting the globe, one person here, another there, each adding their voice. And if we could listen in just the right way, we might hear those voices coming together as one.
The story becomes a different thing then, as it is articulated by each reader, each claiming it as their own, imagining details left out by the author, constructing deeper pasts and new futures for the characters. The story becomes more full and open as it is read.
The preacher shares his inhalation. Each congregant enters as they will. The writer shares his work. Hoping to touch some sense of beauty or wonder, he offers a pattern of words as personal as breath.
As readers, we give ourselves to this process, partners in a dance or stars of the same constellation, building something between us. The writer writes.
It’s the reader who completes the sentence.