“Rote” is Not a Dirty Word
My friends, please don’t have a medical crisis that calls for CPR if it’s ever just the two of us, with no one else around; if the EMT’s don’t arrive quickly, you might die.
I have taken several CPR classes, but I always wonder if I could successfully perform the procedure on a needy person if the situation called for it. The single thing that gives me the slightest glimmer of hope for you in our little scenario is the mnemonic ABC—airway, breathing, circulation. I do remember these “handles” from my training, and they are enough—I think—to jog my brain and the rest of my body into taking the corresponding appropriate action.
That, of course, is the whole point of memorizing “ABC”, repeating it over and over during the training, getting it into my head through every avenue available, until I know it forward, backward, inside out. It’s knowledge meant to sustain in the needy moment.
I see a connection here to the case that can be made for Bible memorization. In our American educational system, memorizing has been somewhat set aside in recent years as “old school”. We used to call it “learning by rote.” Rote is defined as “a memorizing process using routine or repetition, often without full attention or comprehension”. Those who would eliminate this memorization method often do so based on that last part of the definition—just learning the words, facts, or figures without fully comprehending can’t be that valuable, they say.
I would be the first to recognize that it won’t do you much good, lying there unresponsive before me in need of CPR , if all I can remember is “ABC” and I don’t know the corresponding actions to take. But, hopefully, the ABC memory trigger creates the hook where action hangs its hat. In the same way merely knowing the words to hundreds of Bible verses may help me win the Bible Bee in Sunday school without being of much additional use in my life if it never translates from head knowledge into practice.
In my own experience, getting God’s Word into my head has often been the first step in getting it into my heart. Many times, when I need the wisdom and light of God’s truth, I don’t have a Bible at hand (just as I probably won’t have my first aid book at hand when you need that CPR). But it is an amazing moment, if I stop later to analyze, when a verse I memorized during a summer Bible club more than forty years ago flits and lands right in the bull’s-eye of my heart need at just the right time. That is the fire of God’s Spirit using the fuel of His Word to ignite the flame by which I’m able to see my next step along the path or the need of my neighbor who lies along that path wounded and beaten up by life. Through memorization, that Word is constantly accessible to me in places and during activities where I cannot or do not take my Bible, like in the shower or behind the wheel of the car, or when I’m talking with my neighbor or standing in the checkout lane at Wal-Mart. These are places where God speaks His sustaining Word to me or where His Spirit may prompt me to speak it to another.
My fifteen-year-old son and I have been memorizing Isaiah 53 in our homeschool during this Lenten season. I learned the chapter long ago from the King James Bible, so this is a tune-up for me, tweaking my recall now from a different translation. But I have to tell you, something is happening this time through that did not happen when I memorized that passage in a memory challenge years ago. There have been mornings in the past couple of weeks that I’ve repeated those words and have nearly wept at pondering the fact that all the piercing, crushing, and wounding that Jesus withstood was for me. It’s the familiar cadence of the ancient words, learned first through plain old drill, that has left room for the Holy Spirit to put the spotlight on the revisited truth.
More than once the Psalmist mentions the activity of meditating on God’s Word. Again, not always having a Bible in hand, I can meditate on verses I have memorized—chew as a cow would chew its cud; crude illustration, but the purpose of the activity is thorough digestion. It is said we are what we eat—likewise, we become what we take in and digest of God’s Truth.
I am 52 years old. I still memorize, but not nearly as easily (or often) as I did when I was 6 or 12 or 21. I am thankful that I grew up in a faith tradition where Scripture memorization was encouraged. God’s Word sustains—the posts that have preceded this one this week give testimony to that. God’s Word memorized sustains—it’s like the high quality trail mix you carry in your backpack as you travel through life. Always there, ready when you need it…and if you keep hiking and keep renewing your supply, it’s always fresh.