Memorizing the Bible Changes You

Joe Carter has a five-part series on memorization over at the Gospel Coalition that’s worth reading. I’m a huge proponent of memorizing the Bible:

When we have the entire Bible available as an app on our smartphones, it seems an unnecessary waste of time and effort to memorize specific verses or the grand narrative of the story. By relying on technology to do our remembering for us, we have forgotten the moral aspect of memorization. “A trained memory wasn’t just about gaining easy access to information,” says Jonathan Foer, referring to the ancient world, “it was about strengthening one’s personal ethics and becoming a more complete person.” Foer adds that the thinking of the ancients was that only through memorization could ideas truly be incorporated into one’s psyche and their values absorbed.  “Indeed, the single most common theme in the lives of the saints—besides their superhuman goodness—is their often extraordinary memories,” Foer notes.

Oddly enough, in the post, Carter hit on the two things that motivated me most when I first started to work seriously on extensive memorization. Here’s the first:

“My philosophy of life,” says Ed Cooke, a British author and Grand Master of Memory, “is that a heroic person should be able to withstand about ten years in solitary confinement without getting terribly annoyed.”

Cooke has already memorized the bulk of John Milton’s Paradise Lost and is working on doing the same with the works of Shakespeare. “Given that an hour of memorization yields about ten solid minutes of spoken poetry, and those ten minutes have enough content to keep you busy for a full day, I figure you can squeeze at least a day’s fun out of each hour of memorization—if you should ever happen to find yourself in solitary confinement.”

Chances are I’ll never be in a concentration camp or zombie apocalypse without a Bible, but I was inspired by stories of Christians who were to be ready to bring the Bible to the people around me. Crazy? Maybe. But it keeps me going.

The second inspiration for me was St. Patrick. When I read his Confession, I saw passages from the Bible interwoven seamlessly into everything he wrote. The words just came naturally out of him because they had become a part of him. I wanted that to be true of me, too. Here’s how Joe Carter described this: 

For church fathers like Augustine, memorization of the Biblical text helped to make Scripture function like a second language. It has been observed, says Mary Carruthers, that Augustine wrote “not only in Latin but ‘in Psalms,’ so imbued is his language with their phrasing and vocabulary.”

No other kind of study has done more for increasing my knowledge and understanding of the Bible than memorization, so I encourage you to read “How Memorization Feeds Your Imagination” and see the list of parts 2–5 at the end of his post.

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Amy K. Hall

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