Perks and Process: The Why and How of Memorizing



Parroting with perfect 6-year-old Elizabethan elocution, I was rewarded with glowing approval.

“Blessed is the man”-or person, my dad astutely responded to my early gender sensitivities, “that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly…” (Psa. 1 KJV)

“And God is the redeemer of every situation…”

Someone said that to me once, a line I committed to memory and have never–well, sometimes–forgotten.


Those same words, once sweet in my mouth, turned to gravel over time. The experience of having the Bible crammed down one’s throat is foreign to me. I gulped and swallowed it with delight, as it was sweet with the doting affirmation of my insidiously kind environment–and stirred by a gracious and watchful Creator.

Even well-intentioned actions often fall short, and experiences of scripture that once brought cozy warmth came to be associated instead with cynicsm, shame and despair as is typical of “the letter of the law.” Perhaps you, too, have  experienced biblical text that was intended to be Light and bring Life, having become Pharisaical code, weight too heavy to carry. So you’ve set it aside.

I love the practice of lectio divina for its capacity to restore to us the invitational nature of Jesus’ “easy yoke,” especially helpful for those of us who have experienced scripture as a prescriptive, burdensome one. More on that practice here and here.

Today, though…

I’m sharing my renewed enthusism for memorization, something I thought I had permanently left behind–mostly because of the effort, I suppose.

I listened recently to Nathan Foster interviewing Paul Patton, actor/professor/former pastor, on the Renovare podcast, Episode 37. Starting at 13:45, there is plenty to mine.

The Highlights: 

  • “Actors are one of the slivers of civilization that still believe anything is really worth memorizing.”
  • “Write these things on the tablet of your heart,” helps solve short term memory issues, retrieving a truth on command “as circumstances would invite me to redeem it.”
  • “The more you do this, the more you can do this.” It exercises the portions of the brain in which atrophy can be reversed.
  • He tells a story about recognizing the power of the impact that extemporaneously retrieving a thing has, on the individual.
  • “It further fueled my desire to…steward the stirrings of the soul.” (Looove that line…!)
  • E. Stanley Jones: “It’s the habit of the mind, that that which is not articulated simply dies.”
  • A Google search gives ready information, but internalizing it helps us contextualize our own struggles immediately. Ex: I may be in struggle but I’m not in the Battle of the Bulge. I may not prefer my housing but I’m not homeless; hungry but not in Sudan, etc.
  • Helps us choose, “What’s worth remembering? And what’s worth forgetting?”

Teasing out the Motivation to Memorize:

  • Ego boost? To get or look smart: Man, I wanted that gold star!–and usually got it.
  • Obligation? To avoid sin: “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin…”
  • Delight? To be reminded we are [always] in the presence of God.

Abraham Joshua Heschel says: “Inspiration passes. Having been inspired never passes.” You can relive the moment of inspiration, which is more than to just be reminded of the thing that inspired you. Retrieving it becomes “an oasis on command.” (Another favorite line. Sign me up!)

Tips to Start when something jumps out at you:

  • Put the thing you want to memorize in the back of your journal or on a 3×5
  • Work on one item/sentence a week, or at a time
  • Discover your pace but don’t be too easy on yourself
  • Memorize and review every morning; break material into cycles as time goes on

Test Results

  • Christ in the wilderness was able to retrieve things on command which he had internalized; to “put a grid” on a circumstance, contextualize.
  • Peter had come through betraying Christ, experienced his own “resurrection”. At Pentecost he could preach a sermon that would change the world, extemporaneously quoting Joel 2, Psalm 16, etc.

Tackling It 

I’ve been so inspired by this guy that I’ve listened to the occasionally effuse recording–he’s an actor AND a professor, ok?–at least three times in as many days. And I’ve committed to memory some of the great phrases from the interview including the quotes by Jones and Heschel.

And this morning I read Psalm 16 and a couple of other passages I’ve spent time on in the past, into my phone and have committed to reviewing them each day this week. We’ll see how it goes. I suspect that, if nothing else, at least on those nights when I can’t sleep, this might come in handy.

“…and he/she will be like a tree planted by rivers of living water…” Who know what might happen in/to/for/through/around/because of…you? (Love those prepositions with their endless possibility…!)

If you’re willing to give it a shot, let me know how it goes with you.

Blessing on your day,


What might that look like in the 21st century?

Helps answer the question in the moment, “What’s my responsibility/privilege as an image-bearer of God?”






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