Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Double-edged Sword of Rote Memory

While there are those who would disparage the use of rote memory in worship, there is evidence that memorization can play an important part in worship. There is a notion that every time rote memory is engaged, it devalues that worship to mindless ritual. But, what neuroscience has discovered about the types of memory and how each is acquired tells us differently.

Unless you are one of those people who has a photographic memory, establishing a rote memory requires multiple recitations. Each recitation stores only a fragment of the whole of the targeted information, thus creating a sort of concordance. That concordance is important because it makes the essence of the memory available under different circumstances and for varied purposes.

For that reason, Scriptures and prayers that are memorized become available in varied situations for varied reasons. That knowledge helped me to understand the difference between suffering the loss of rote memory and enduring that loss.

The loss of rote memory happened to me, as it does to many people, as the result of a closed head injury. Although my therapist had assured me that I would eventually be able to access the memory, though not in whole, I panicked in disbelief. After several years of working to re-establish the mundane items one normally knows (mathematical items such as telephone numbers, social security numbers, and basic math facts), I found I was able to access Scriptures, poems, and prayers using the essence of the meaning of those data. Words to songs are less easy to access. I've learned to use my “personal concordance” to help me access information memorized decades ago.

Fortunately, I was trained by my Sunday School and VBS teachers to memorize Scriptures. We were also taught to “pray the Scriptures,” using them as the basis of prayers. An interesting outcome of this is the Gloria Patria which I memorized in the 1970s. I still can access that prayer in only one circumstance. When I am praying fervently for some emergency or in such emergency, the Gloria comes to me in whole when the prayer is being answered. I have learned, when that happens, to act on that assurance as though I can see it with my natural senses. I find that fascinating but reassuring.

Having shared these circumstances, I'll share also the plight of those with photographic memories. Though they are able to recite passages (prayers, poetry, Scriptures), those passages have no meaning except the sequence of the words and, so, no “personal concordance” is built. How sad that the great truths and the great beauties of all those memorized passages are lost to them!

One of the best things that happened to me in my doctoral studies was the course on Neuropsychology which transformed what I had considered suffering into enduring. At the time, I thought the course was useless but the Lord had other Ideas and I'm so glad He did.

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