I’ve spent the past week reacquainting myself with some spiritual disciplines, namely journaling and Scripture memorization. I was convicted by a quote from Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines last Sunday, and decided to make more of an effort to read, write, pray and meditate on a verse of Scripture each day, one of the goals being to memorize that verse. These have been habits in my life, on and off, for many years. Why it is that these good habits go AWOL from time to time mystifies me.
Now in order to meditate on a verse, one reads it slowly, several times, with pauses in between, according to the ancient practice of lectio divina (sacred reading). In order to memorize, one does much the same thing, though sometimes there is less emphasis on really getting at the meat of the meaning, and more on just learning the words…truth familiar to anyone who has ever crammed for a test and then promptly forgotten every fact in the instant of handing the completed exam back to the teacher.
Obviously the repeated reading for meaning has value, especially when reading a “living” book, one whose depth of insight will always surpass our power to delve. This morning I went over the previous week’s verses, learned but still fresh and vital, and chose a longer passage to work on through the coming week, putting one or two verses at a time on index cards. As well as I think I know Hebrews 12: 1 – 11, there are great riches there, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with it.
Isn’t it interesting how much context and personal choice impact how we tolerate an activity? If I’m choosing the verses, I can read them over and over. But begin a chorus and sing the words more times than I think is necessary, and I grow impatient. Is there truth to be found? Yes. Can I look for it, meditate on these words, even if my aesthetic sense says we’ve repeated the phrase once too often? Yes.
And so this morning, we sang a worship song, one which I actually like quite well. But we got to the simple statement of Job, “You give and take away, You give and take away…my heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be Your Name.'” And we sang it again, and again, and again…
I didn’t consciously think, “meditate on this, find the depth.” I know that. I did consciously think, “This is at least one too many times to be singing this phrase.” Yes, I thought that. But the Spirit was talking at the same time, saying, “What has the Lord given you? What has He taken away?” And I began to list things…the “take away” phrase tends to make me weepy with self-pitying (a “look-how-spiritual-I-am-to-praise-You -anyway” pity…)
I began to list things, and I realized something: what God takes away isn’t necessarily a deprivation. Sometimes the taking away is a gift. He may take away despair or doubt, He may remove loneliness, He may eliminate worry or fear. I realized this. The Fourth. Time. We. Sang. That. Phrase. (Which means we actually sang, “You give and take away” eight times.)
What is the value of repetition? It gives the heart time to catch up with the head. The ears and eyes have shorter paths to and from the brain. We see and hear, and we think we got it the first time, or the second. But to the seat of emotion and intuition and synthesis of life experiences…that journey takes more time, more telling, more pondering. More repeats. Ponder that today.