By Rote: The Start and End of the Road

Bringing (Daily) Life to Scripture Memorization

When I started my scripture memorization project several months ago, I imagined I’d be marching around the house reciting the entire book of Ephesians by now—Paul’s theological exhortations glittering in my veins for the rest of my days.

Memorizing a book turned into memorizing a chapter, which turned into learning disparate verses from my temporary scripture tattoos, and, on most days, remembering just a word or two.

When I started my scripture memorization project several months ago, I imagined Paul’s theological exhortations glittering in my veins for the rest of my days.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I’ve tried to avoid guilt and embrace grace while documenting this journey, looking for the larger lessons amidst my constant adjustments and concessions to my addled brain. Since starting the project, I’ve dealt with job changes, mental illness, and parenting challenges. And every month, as I’ve sat down to write, I’ve asked myself the following question:

What have I learned about learning the Word?

The Word itself has become less important than the process of reading and committing it, however loosely, to memory. Typing the previous sentence seems a little unsettling, even slightly sacrilegious, until I realize what this whole experience has really been all about for me: getting to know the Holy Spirit.

During a recent Sunday school class on the Trinity, it dawned on me that I’ve been a functioning modalist for decades, believing that God fulfills three different roles: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That all sounds fine on the surface, until you distinguish between roles and persons. God isn’t a three-sided coin but three separate identities in one. There’s a difference.

How does this revelation impact my experience with Scripture? Opening myself to the Bible’s influence becomes deeper than an intellectual exercise when I invite the Holy Spirit along. The Spirit, whom I’ve admittedly given the short end of the Trinitarian stick, literally inhabits me as His own person. My foundering through scripture “memorization” has become the Holy Spirit’s way of making Himself at home in me.

One fact I’ve confirmed: I’ve got a bad memory. Or at least I haven’t possessed the wherewithal to push through the fatigue and stress of motherhood and work to force it. One of the initial inspirations for my memorization project, Brother Yun, memorized and recited entire books of Scripture though beatings, torture, and imprisonment. Why couldn’t I?

 

Stop asking yourself how you’re not like Yun, the Spirit told me. Ask Me how to become like Jesus.

For a goal-oriented person unaccustomed to changing course so often and so blatantly, it felt unnatural to “give up.” I support and recommend scripture memorization as a way to grow in Christ. It’s a discipline that benefits and matures believers. But the Holy Spirit is stronger than my personality and plans.

I am ending this experiment without having memorized Ephesians. Even the shorter passages and verses I clung to in moments of trial have left me, replaced with orthodontist appointments, tax returns, and work deadlines. But what hasn’t left me is my reliance on the Spirit to counsel and encourage me in the moment.

One morning, for example, I opened a devotional app on my phone. The verse of the day was from Exodus 16:  The sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much [manna] and some little. When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat” (Ex. 16:17-18).

Immediately after reading that passage, a friend messaged me with a desperate plea for prayer. “I can’t even talk about it,” he wrote.

What hasn’t left me is my reliance on the Spirit to counsel and encourage me in the moment.

I prayed, but with few words. I just pictured myself handing him the overflow of honey wafers I’d happened to gather that day: “God, these are for Dan.”

On a trip to Washington, D.C., a week after that, I wandered into the National Gallery of Art and stood in front of Rodin’s cast of “Hand of God.” Like the struggling Adam and Eve, I melted into the Father’s marble hand for several minutes and walked through the crowded, blistering, politically wrought streets in peace.

Each day has become an adventure in asking the Spirit, “What will You teach me today, and how?” Sometimes I read a chapter of Scripture, sometimes a chapter from a novel or a short story. Sometimes I’m called away from my quiet meditation to talk to a friend or neighbor in crisis. Sometimes I play an air on my fiddle and picture Jesus sleeping in the storm. Sometimes I put down the Word to bend down and show attention to my nervous terrier when I don’t feel like it, obedient to the Spirit’s call with no one but the Godhead to watch.

The verse I chose at random and tattooed on my wrist this week is Hebrews 10:16:

“This is the covenant I will make with them
    after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

I may have not remembered all the words I’ve tried to memorize, but just the same, they’re on my mind. And in my heart.

 

Art by Jeff Gregory

Click to read more articles in the “By Rote” series.

Related Topics:  Reading Bible

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What happens to my notes

17 The sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little.

18 When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat.

16 THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM," He then says,

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