So. It’s Lent now.
This season of darkness is a time when Christians walk the road to Jerusalem and the cross with Jesus. Traditionally, this journey means that we fast from something in order create space in our lives to listen to God.
Each Friday during Lent, I will write about a spiritual practice that can help us begin to hear the voice of God in a world that is full of noise.
Today’s practice is the totally unglamorous discipline of memorization.
In a culture in which we have easy access to words, it is hard to see the reason to memorize anything. After all, we can just look it up on Google.
But, as Marilyn Chandler McEntyre writes in the most recent issue of Books and Culture, “We need words that will surface when it is time to speak peace to violence or truth to power. To memorize poems,” and, I would add, Scripture, “is to prepare for these moments, and to put away for a time of need provisions that will fuel our prayers and see us through.”
On Thanksgiving, my friend Susan showed me a little book she’d made with all the verses of Ephesians printed in it, six or eight verses to a page.
She said she was going to memorize it.
“The whole book?” I was incredulous.
“Well, yes,” she said. “That’s the plan.”
Now, I’m not one to let Susan do anything without my tagging along (well, except she did move to Boston and get a PhD, and I didn’t, but apart from that…), so I said, “Ooh, can I join you?”
And because Susan is magnanimous and kind (and, God bless her, she likes me), she said, “Sure.” She even made me a little book of my own and gave it to me the first week of Advent.
And so I started memorizing Ephesians. Slowly. As in one verse every day or two. But slow and steady accumulates: three months later, I’ve memorized the first two and a half chapters. I hope to bury its words so deep in my mind that they will still be there in ten years.
During Lent, I will continue to review the words of Ephesians that I’ve already memorized. But I am going to take a break from memorizing any new verses in order to focus my memory efforts on Psalm 51.
Psalm 51, called the Miserere (from the first word: miserere in Latin; have mercy in English), is a penitential psalm. It is prayed every day in Eastern churches. In the West, it is prayed every Friday during Morning Prayer. And it’s almost universally the psalm for Ash Wednesday. Its penitential focus makes it an appropriate psalm for Lent, which is a season of penitence and purification to prepare ourselves for Easter.
If you want to work the words of Scripture deep into your brain cells, I invite you to join me these next five weeks as I memorize the words of this psalm. I’ve created a template of the psalm and a cheat sheet of memorization aids to help you commit these words to memory.
When we’ve memorized something, we don’t say we know it by brain or by mind. We say we know it by heart. Ultimately, that’s where we want these words to lodge and live: in our hearts. And they can only live there when we truly, deeply, intimately know them.
Will you join me?