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Embedded in Memory

In this age of Google apps on smart phones, information is always at our fingertips. Why should we bother to memorize anything?

The late Roger Ebert wrote a beautiful essay in Poetry justifying the practice of memorization as “stirring a dormant love of language” (Poetry, Vol 202: Number 4). I know what he’s talking about. There are some bits of another’s writing that slip easily into my own, more easily than if those words had come from me. It’s like they were just waiting for the right time to be used. Likewise I carry around many quotes that sleep peacefully in my mind and, as a new situation arises, rouse themselves, stand up, and shout, Remember me?

I am aware that the idea of memorizing Bible verses is sometimes frowned upon in today’s church, as if we should have already moved passed such an old-fashioned practice. Like many others, I have appreciated Rachel Held Evans’ reminder that what people “want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.” What about bringing back the Bible memorization boards in Sunday School classrooms for all ages? I am often amazed that a particular verse of scripture, thought to be long forgotten, will rise up out of my consciousness at just the right moment. It’s like being confronted with a locked door and, suddenly, discovering that a key was in your pocket the whole time.

I also submit for your consideration that individual memorization, quite paradoxically, can be a communal spiritual practice – a way of bringing people together. Take Ebert’s experience in interviewing legendary Peter O’Toole:

[O’Toole] responded to me with a line or two by W.B. Yeats. They jarred something within me, and I answered with a few more lines of Yeats. Our eyes met, and something clicked. He quoted some more Yeats, and then I did, and we went on for ten minutes or so, and he laughed and said, “Well, I think we’ve done our job.”

Maybe our “job” – our sacred calling – is to connect with others in such a deep, mystical way; to feel that internal (eternal?) “click” as something from long ago suddenly bears living witness on a relationship in the moment. Sometimes the discipline of memorization can result in unforgettable moments.

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.


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