Reason #2 why we should be memorizing Scripture: the simple act of memorization sharpens our thinking and deepens our faith.
First, memorization sharpens our thinking.
I mean that quite literally. I read a fascinating book awhile back called “The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains”. The writer Nicholas Carr points out that memorization was a key component of a classical education for centuries leading back to the days of the Renaissance.
The ancient Greeks worshiped Mnemosyne (NEE-mos-sinee), the goddess of memory, who gave birth to the nine muses, who in turn governed the study of the poetry, dance, history, music and astronomy. In other words, memory allows for musing which allows for the richest development of human life and thought.
The 18th century writer Samuel Johnson wrote: “Memory is the primary and fundamental power, without which there could be no other intellectual operation.” In his book, Carr goes to great lengths to describe physiologically how through the act of committing something to memory, we are literally strengthening and expanding the neural network of our actual brains.
But these days because of the Internet, we off-load our need to remember things to technology. “What do I need to remember that for? I can just Google it whenever I want,” we say. “Besides, I can then free up some of my brain power for more important things.” If our brains were exactly like a computer, that might be true. But computers have limited storage capacity, while our brains do not. Carr writes:
“The brain cannot be ‘full’…The very act of remembering appears to modify the brain in a way that can make it easier to learn ideas and skills in the future. We don’t constrain our mental powers when we store new long-term memories. We strengthen them. With each expansion of our memory comes in enlargement of our intelligence.”
On the other hand, when we turn to technology to do the remembering and thinking for us, the reverse happens. Here’s Carr again:
“The more we use the web, the more we train our brains to be distracted – to process information very quickly and very efficiently but without sustained attention. That helps explain why many of us find it hard to concentrate even when we’re away from our computers. Our brains become adept at forgetting, inept at remembering. The Internet makes us shallower thinkers.”
Sounds to me like memorizing Bible verses would be a very helpful exercise. And useful as well, because…
Secondly, memorization deepens our faith.
Because my thinking is deepened by the act of memorizing, it naturally must follow that when I bring memory-work to my faith, it too will be deepened. To hear it said by an outside speaker, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son,” is awesome. But to hear it said by your own lips passing through your own heart, is powerful beyond description. Now you possess those words, or maybe it should be said, they possess you. You have in a real sense, as Jeremiah said, eaten the word of God when you memorize it.
Actors who memorize Shakespeare testify that in the act of memorization, their understanding of what he is writing grows, and with that, their appreciation of the majesty of his writing, and his thought. Take the simple line from Romeo and Juliet, “He jests at scars who never felt a wound.” A simple, cursory hearing of that line, and it probably blows past you. But stop. Say it again. “He jests at scars who never felt a wound.” Slow it down, say it yet again. What is Romeo saying? People who have never been hurt have a hard time at empathy. Through pain and experience we grow in our capacity to feel and to comfort. The act of memorizing that line brings it into focus for us. It deepens our understanding.
And the same thing happens when we memorize Scripture. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Say those words out loud right now. As the words roll over the tongue, they begin to roll right into my heart. I begin to grasp what those words mean.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in need. He is with me. He will provide for me. He will protect me. He cares for me. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And so as my thinking deepens, so does my faith. Through simple memory work, my knowledge, and awareness and love of God grows.