Over the past year, I’ve been doing the timeless practice of scripture memorization. I haven’t always been very faithful, and I tend to forget more than I can commit to memory, but I think that I am very slowly accomplishing something.
I’ve always admired those saints that can pull from memory useful and applicable scripture when they need it. In my experience, they are mostly the elderly who, when young, were required to learn verses by memory for school and church; small children in Sunday school; and Bible-thumpers who like to “proof-text” or use it as a weapon in debates. I felt a little funny when I decided to begin learning verses by memory. I am not an aged saint, nor a child, nor a Bible-thumping Christian. I am quite often uncomfortable with being labelled “Christian”.
I became very uncomfortable with the conservative, evangelical mode of Christian belief about four or five years ago and embraced the post-modern forms of Christianity when I found that they gave me the freedom I needed. I also felt liberated from the Bible-saturated culture of evangelical Christianity that I was familiar with. I didn’t touch my Bible for at least a year. But I came to feel as though a great deal was missing from my faith, particularly something that rooted and grounded my faith outside of myself. Having given my life a break from the Bible, I decided to begin reading the it again.
I began to read it again with fresh vision. I found the grounding I needed. (But don’t think that I became a religious, all-day reader! I am sporadic at worst, more regular at best.) I found room in the Biblical narrative for me and space for a more intuitive faith. Although I am a very emotional person, my faith and beliefs are not. Being aware of the more “felt” sides of faith is something I perennially struggle with. When I became aware of my struggle with depression, my whole being demanded that I reach out for an experience of God that involved the intuitive side of myself since my mind could not convince my heart of what it knew logically.
Interestingly, scripture memory has provided some aspect of this for me. I am reminded often of the mystics and their different experiences of God while I am working on a particular verse. The ancient mystics weren’t the only ones who found a path to God through repetition – Eastern religions make frequent use repeated phrases, breathing patterns, or physical movements to move the soul towards God. I find that in the out-loud repetition of the same verses over and over (with closed eyes so I can concentrate), God becomes real to me in a way that is not easily described with words. Troy Watson, columnist with “The Canadian Mennonite” speaks about this very type of experience of God that becomes almost ludicrous when analyzed logically. Watson writes, “As divine grace and peace permeated my mind, heart and soul, everything in the universe made sense – until I tried to rationalize it and put it into language.” *
My practice of memorization opens me to God’s Spirit, and I become more reliant upon God’s Spirit instead of my own unsteady understanding of truth. So I believe that I am accomplishing something, that my journey of becoming is enhanced and encouraged by my new-old practice of Scripture memorization. I still long for a faith that runs deep (intuitive/emotional) as well as wide (logical). Like my attempts to memorize, I am a work in progress. But sometimes the finding comes in the process, not the end result.
* “Embracing the absurdity”, Canadian Mennonite, vol. 16, num. 9, April 30, 2012