“Jesus loves me, this I know … “That’s the first song I memorized as a child. That’s a song little children still memorize today. Sometimes when I’m practicing the piano or organ at church, a little child will timidly walk up to me to watch me play. I’ll stop what I’m playing and invite the child to play a key or a pedal so they can find out what it feels like and sounds like to play a note or two. Then I’ll play “Jesus loves me.” Without exception, the child will smile. Sometimes they sing along. I think it’s a universal truth that it’s both comforting and fun to respond to something we’ve memorized.
“God bless our food. Amen.” That’s the first table prayer I memorized. I repeated it before every meal until I went to kindergarten and learned “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let this food to us be blessed. Amen.” For the past 60 years, I’ve repeated this prayer before meals.
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands …” I remember memorizing “The Pledge of Allegiance” in first grade.
“Under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands …” I think I was in fifth grade when I had to memorize this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I was surprised to hear my mom recite the whole poem when I was trying to memorize just a couple verses. She’d memorized it in grade school, too. She also had memorized “October’s Bright Blue Weather” by Helen Hunt Jackson and just about every other poem I was assigned to memorize in school. She remembered them all.
“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 KJV) That was one of the first Bible verses I memorized in Sunday School. Apparently a lot of people memorized that verse, because nowadays you even see it posted on billboards.
Throughout my grade school and high school years my mom had my brother and me memorize one Bible verse a week. She wrote a verse on top of a chart. The days of the week were listed below the verse, across the top of a grid. All the chores Danny and I were supposed to do every day were listed down the left side of the grid. The top half of the grid was Danny’s. The bottom half was mine. Every time we completed a job (like make bed, wash dishes, etc.) we were supposed to read the verse on the top of the chart, and then write its reference in the grid. By the end of the week, the grid was filled and we had memorized the Bible verse. If we could still recite each verse by the end of the month, we would get a prize. As I recall, we had a 100 percent success rate. The first verse we memorized this way was Ephesian 4:32, “Be ye kind, one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (I think my mom’s real motive for having us memorize this verse was to help us remember to be nice to each other and not to always be squabbling.)
Memorization. Is that a thing of the past? Do we still memorize anything?
I thought about that quite a bit last week. I really wanted to memorize a short reading by Joan Chittister that I’d come across in my daily devotional reading. It was really hard for me to memorize two simple sentences, much harder than it seemed to be in my youth. I finally memorized the 20 words, but I’m making myself repeat those two simple sentences several times a day, until I’m sure I won’t forget the quote.
What are those 20 words that I’m struggling so hard to memorize? Here’s the quote:
We are not born simply for the sake of personal survival. We are here to make life better for everyone.
That was the daily reading in “The Monastic Way” for last Thursday, December 12. That was also the day that some of the women inmates at the worship service of the Dane County Jail were talking about how much the other women in their cell block were helping them learn how to live better lives. That kindness was giving them hope for a better future. It was a perfect illustration of the principle Joan Chittister was stating – that I’ve finally memorized. “We are not born simply for the sake of personal survival. We are here to make life better for everyone.”