I was raised Baptist. As anyone raised Baptist knows, memorization is a large part of that faith tradition. While I no longer consider myself Baptist, I do think they have this right.
As part of my journey from being a Baptist to now being an Anglican, I did a good deal of research (and still do) in Eastern Orthodoxy. In some ways I’d rather be Orthodox than Anglican, but I feel Anglicanism is where the Lord has brought me.
One of Orthodoxy’s emphases is what they call Theosis. Theosis, often hastily compared to sanctification, is the process by which a human being becomes more like God. St. Athanasius, who defended the faith against the Arians in the early church, said in his On the Incarnation,"For He was made man that we might be made God." This is not to say, with Mormonism, that man becomes a God, but that he becomes like God. He takes to him God’s attributes, by God’s help.
This idea of transformation into the image of God reoriented my faith and gave me a new goal. However, I hadn’t realized that I had been given a great tool in Theosis by my Baptist upbringing.
We memorized nearly everything. Hebrews 11, all of the Epistle of James and a few other smaller NT letters. I memorized three or four chapters out of Daniel for a competition. We memorized in Awanas (in retrospect an excellent program), Sunday school, Church Camp, and the Christian school I attended. Looking back, at any given time, we should have been memorizing three or four passages of scripture of varying lengths each week. Some of it stuck; some of it didn’t. I can’t remember, for instance, the majority of scripture references for any of the Bible verses I know. I am, however saturated with the King James. I know that there “is a great gulf fixed” between “Abraham’s bosom” and hell in Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man. I know “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the Beginning with God.” Scriptural phraseology inundated my imagination, willing or not.
However, I was never told why I should memorize scripture. I merely had “I have hidden thy word in my heart that I might not sin against thee” quoted at me. I took it to mean, “If you memorize the rules you sure won’t break them.”
But God is so much better than that.
Memorization is about taking an essence into yourself. I am not entirely sure who I am stealing this from but my bet is Aquinas or Plato (odd bedfellows though they be). The mind knows. That is it’s primary function. It is composed of thoughts, memories, passions, impressions, etc. Anything you put into it becomes part of it. That football game, the Iliad, Breaking Bad, and your route to work all in some way become part of your soul. Memorization is the most intense way we have of integrating things into our soul this way. So memorize great things!
This is the true meaning of the above passage. Memorize scripture and you won’t sin, not because you know the list of rules by which to live your life, but because the Word of God will be engrafted onto your soul in the most intimate way.
I think this also has impacts for us in other ways. This is why I have taken up memorizing and rememorizing poetry. I am a poet, but I think this is applicable to anyone. Poetry, like all art, is a beautiful thing. If you memorize a poem, passage of a novel, the image of a painting, or the strains of a concerto you have grafted beauty into your soul. Beauty being a transcendental and therefore convertible with being, when you memorize a poem you are enhancing your ability to exist as God intends. You are reinforcing your goodness and your understanding of truth at the same time (since they are also convertible with being).
So go out and memorize a poem. Memorize scripture. Attend a concert. Gaze at some art. Use memorization as a tool to Theosis and BECOME better.