Words in our bones

November 15, 2010

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which
includes Schertz's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine
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Century.

Reflecting on the Benedictus gives us an opportunity to
reflect on the place of memorization and repetition in our formation as people
who read the Bible as if our lives depended on it. Ellen Davis calls reading
the Bible as if our lives depended on it confessional reading. She does not
mean reading the Bible in light of a denominational confession. She means
reading the Bible as an "indispensible word."

Reading the Bible as if and until it gives us life can
happen many ways. Certainly there is no one size fits all when it comes to a
person's or a congregation's relationship with the word. As with all
relationships, all interactions, there are many methodological, theological and
practical variations.

There are, however, unique benefits to repetition and
memorization. To that end, the varieties of church life have much to learn from
each other. Free church traditions, in which I have been formed, have much to
learn from more liturgical traditions, where the words that we hear over and
over in worship get into our bones and stay there. We may not attend well to
every worship service. Some mornings we may only sense dimly what we are
saying. Nevertheless, through the vagaries of human attention and inattention,
the important words are sinking deeper and deeper into our being.

Liturgical traditions, however, have something to learn from
the evangelical traditions that have, for the most part, placed more emphasis
on memorizing scripture. Rote learning is no substitute for understanding, of
course, but if the words are embedded in our being, understanding and practice
will come.  Memorization is another
way to get the important words into our bones.

In the last analysis, what we all want is for the account of
our lives to have profound meaning--a concept that Paul J. Griffiths explores
in Religious Reading. Reading, reciting and memorizing the words
important to our Christian account is essential to the meaning of our lives and
our witness. Some of us are in that stage of life where we are accompanying
loved members of the generation ahead of us into their final years. As we watch
them dying, we may envy the inner resources they have in the important words
that have seeped into their bones. It is not too late to shore up our own inner
landscapes and to encourage our children.