The joy of memorizing whole books

words.jpgThat said, I’ve only memorized two, and both were Bible books. Between about 1993 and 2005, I memorized Mark’s Gospel (whose 16 chapters is about 11,000 words) and somewhere later in the noughties I memorized Ephesians (whose six chapters is only around 2,500 words). I think I averaged about a chapter a year, and I was also reading the whole Bible each year usually, plus any special research projects. So it wasn’t my sole focus. And I was raising kids and holding down a job and so on.

Is it hard? Not at all. If like me you read the Bible devotionally anyway, you might as well. Like learning a language, only early death can stop you.

How do I do it? A bit at a time with lots of revision.

How did I start? I memorized a few psalms, to sort of convince myself I could do it.

What are the benefits?  I found them huge. Here are some:

  1. You really, deeply reflect on every word. It feeds your soul. This really is something. It’s like crossing a landscape by foot or narrowboat rather than on a motorway. Mark is (I think) the collection of stories Peter told while he was visiting the churches. You’re almost with him there in the audience, at that first telling among the smoking oil lamps. Wonderful. Meanwhile Ephesians is that astonishing, eagle-eyed view of the whole destiny of the Universe, and the church in its small acts of reconciliation and worship is somehow at the beating heart of it. There’s nothing like these two views. (Except, I suppose, other Bible books.)
  2. You can do it odd moments. When I lived in Singapore, I did it during my bus journey to work.
  3. It’s great for when part of your work is preparing talks or (as in my case) writing books. So much material is already in your head, pre-digested. I do find myself quoting Mark or Ephesians quite a lot.
  4. Loads of old people do sudokos to keep Alzheimer’s at bay. Fair enough. (I am not yet old.) But honestly, you can do a lot better. I noticed Ephesians was a lot easier to memorize than Mark, and not just because it was orders of magnitude smaller. I think maybe my brain got better at it.

How do I keep the memories fresh? In principle, I go through the whole two books again every year, often during a retreat day. I recite them out loud. My medical adventures of the past few years have disrupted that schedule, but I’ll get back to it. I have the book open when I recite it, because I have forgotten parts over the years.

It’s a good question whether I should take the necessary couple of months to get right back up to speed and be able to do the whole thing without opening the book: I tend to think that isn’t worth it, unless I was going to present that material in public or something.

How does it differ from other Bible memorization schemes? Well it’s probably personal taste, but I like the organic approach of tackling a whole of an author’s work. I prefer this to memorizing scripture nuggets out of context. This may be work for you, but I find it a bit forced.

Should I have a go? Up to you. Let me know how you’ve got on in about 12 years.

 

 

 

Things to do when you’ve missed your train at Kings Cross (part 1)

The British Library1.No, don’t go to platform 9 3/4 and watch the tourists photographing each other. Come out of the station, skip past St Pancras, and walk into the British Library.

2.Breathe deeply. Relax. It may look like a Young Offenders’ Institution, but this is an holy place.

3. Climb the broad stairs to the dimly-lit room where they keep their treasures.

4. Try not to get too excited.

5. Find the folio in which Handel hand-wrote the Hallelujah Chorus. It is open at the last page, the final, endless A-le-lu-ia, and you can see Handel’s spidery lines, his scribblings-out, his squashed semibreves, his desperate haste. This is not the forensically typeset version of the printed score. It is Handel’s own untidy and spontaneous penmanship.

(This is a photo of a facsimile, not the original, just in case you thought I’d done a bad thing.)Handel - in his own hand!

6. Reflect. Here’s what the all-knowing Internet says about Messiah:

In 1741, Handel composed Messiah and what we know now as the Hallelujah Chorus. While designing and composing Messiah, Handel was in debt and deeply depressed; however, the masterpiece was completed in a mere 24 days.

Despite his mental and financial state, the Hallelujah Chorus’s birth story is a glorious one. After Handel’s assistant called for him for a few moments, the assistant went to Handel’s work area because he received no response from Handel. Upon entering the room, the assistant saw tears emerge from Handel’s eyes. When the assistant asked why Handel was crying, Handel proclaimed, “I have seen the face of God.” 1

In front of Handel would have been the manuscript that’s now in front of you.

Here’s the internet again“Considering the immensity of the work and the short time involved, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of music composition.”

7. Reflect some more. Life wasn’t going well. But a gifted person, in the place God meant him to be, doing the thing God gifted him to do, met God, created something beautiful, and 275 years later, the world is still reverberating.

On not being sucked into the vortex of someone else’s urgency

Evangelists, and apostolic, entrepreneurial Christian types generally, seem to be the unsettling opposite of ‘slow mission.’ They dash about. The apostle Paul seemed always to be in a hurry.

Rush Hour at Guwahati Club, Guwahati

This can make the rest of us feel uneasy. These people are out evangelizing the world while we are digging allotments, playing games, visiting Aunts or watching cricket. Do they show up us slow mission types as wicked, lazy servants?

Here’s why that isn’t—or at least might not be—the case.

  1. Much of what is achieved in haste seems either to evaporate altogether or need re-doing more slowly.
  2. In my experience, some evangelists cut corners. They might be slapdash with relationships, or with money, or with the speed limits. Their evangelistic zeal is a kind of coverall to hide their character defects.
  3. God in any case has his ways of slowing evangelists down. Paul kept being put in jail, and arguably did his best work there, writing half the New Testament.
  4. Slow mission is not about laziness. When you follow your love and your passion, you work harder and for longer than when you work at anything else. Duty can take you a long way, but devotion will take you further. 
  5. Evangelists’ love and passion is in winning people. That’s their thing and their devotion. Wonderful.  But it shouldn’t–should it?– be foisted on the rest of us as if it were the final word in discipleship or obedience.

At the smell of coffee

We Christians, especially us evangelicals, are very keen on programmes and courses. It sort-of suits our desire to package things. And we all of us like to receive pre-packaged things, whether it’s a ready meal or story. Life would be impossible without them, especially the Western consumer lifestyle.

I can’t help feeling something has been lost though.  This is God we are packaging, the Ultimately Unpackable. I suppose it’s good to always have something in the freezer that you can bring out when necessary, a gospel ready-meal, systematically covering the basics of Christian truth. A reader myself, I like a book, even though it’s a packaged summary, because it’s at least a start. (I’ve even written one for just that purpose.)

But the danger with a power-point-type presentation of the gospel is like every other power-point you’ve ever seen, it passes through the mind without ever being internalized. All the boxes are ticked, you’ve had the training, but in another way none of the boxes have been ticked. 

Jesus told stories which were totally incomplete accounts of the gospel. He probably had many reasons for this (not being stoned to death in a religious hothouse might have been one). But his stories are like the smell of coffee. They set you off on a hunt for the source.

Life is Short. Enjoy ur Coffee.

Does our love for the pre-packaged make us compartmentalized in  our thinking? Identikit in our practice? Unnatural in our growth? Interesting.

Faith in the workplace: four pointers

Our worklife is another area that we can think of as something to do with Kingdom of God. (As I blogged here.) So:

  1. It’s about devotion to Christ. Work, like the rest of life, is something in the end that we do in front of an audience of One. That leads to the extra-mile contributions.
  2. It’s now and not yet. Some stuff at work will never be put right until the end of everything. But we can make a difference today.
  3. It’s internal and external. Our heart has to be right, not just our conduct. (The heart always spills over anyway.) It was said of the great reforming MP William Wilberforce that he kept on friendly terms even with his political enemies.  The Christian faith calls us to love our neighbours, enemies, brothers, even, therefore, the awkward so-and-sos at work. We can’t just politely hate them. That’s awkward, but ultimately productive.
  4. We come in weakness. Which implies patience, willingness to admit being wrong, persistence, gentleness. Not a doormat, but not a door-slammer either.

Slow mission: January

January,  the month of hope: the hope being that the rest of the year isn’t January. But perhaps we can add meaning to our trudging through the cold and snow.

Slow mission starts with where we’re going – that in the fullness of time (lovely phrase) everything will be headed up or summed up or brought together in Christ.

When time has filled its cup to the rim, as it were, Christ will be in and over everything.

We can’t actually make that happen. But in the interim we do what can, where we can, with whatever we have. We try to subject ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus, and try to extend his influence into whatever we touch. So all of life matters. This puts meaning into every day.

Why God keeps you waiting

I am reading a series of devotional books by F B Meyer (1847 – 1929), one page on each chapter of the Bible.

From an entry on Psalm 62:

‘[Abraham] was left waiting till nature was spent… till all that knew him pitied him for clinging to an impossible dream. But as this great silence fell on him, the evidence of utter helplessness and despair, there arose within his soul an ever-accumulating faith in the power of God…

‘This is why God keeps you waiting.’

Finding our place: ‘Going’ v ‘Staying’

(From My Place in God’s World)

Jesus lived good news as much as he preached it.

Though Jesus gave teaching a very high priority, it wasn’t all he did. Among other things, he healed, he averted a natural disaster or two, he enforced justice and he cooked fish for a men’s breakfast.

Nor was his time on earth an action-packed frenzy of spiritual activity, praying, healing and teaching.  He first lived a good life, thirty years in a single village.

He set the pattern. That leads to two forces pulling on us: the urge to slip our moorings and head to do great things on some wide horizon; or the urge to stay where we are and live well. For each of us, the blend will be original.

Home and hearth; or follow your dream. I think for those of us lucky enough, life has enough seasons to do both. Happy Christmas.

Poor in spirit: ‘breaking out of a prison of your own making’

Recently heard a talk by the chaplain of the Robben Island prison during Nelson Mandela’s time there. Apparently Mandela said to himself, when he finally regained his freedom, that unless he left the hate and bitterness behind, he would remain in prison, but this time in one of his own making.

Finding our place: Wide v deep

(From My Place in God’s World)

A command to ‘preach the good news to all creation’ (which as we know is the last command Jesus gave on earth) can, for the Christian, awake our inner geographer. Where has the gospel not yet gone? How is it that people not been offered this meal, this treasure, this healing oil?

Yet at the same time the New Testament seems more devoted to how we live than where we preach. The church should ‘grow to become in every respect the mature body’ and this sends us deep rather than wide: caring for our own souls and for the souls of those around us.

So: spread good news through the world or try to foster justice and compassion in ourselves and in the community around us? Wide or deep? Obviously both, and both elements are covered by the word ‘disciple’ which Jesus used when he left us with the command to ‘make disciples of all nations’.