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Before I forget

"Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed..." 1 Corinthians 12.1

Rote-learning, or memorisation, has gone out of fashion. After all, every scrap of information we could ever require is now accessible at the press of a button - so why bother? In his essay Memory and Character Formation Dutch-Canadian theologian, Hans Boersma, mines the mediaeval pedagogical tradition to highlight three benefits of memorisation.

Firstly, we are shaped by both what we remember and by how we remember it. All creatures have the capacity to remember; they need it to form the instincts upon which they rely to survive and multiply. The unique capacity of human beings is our ability to select and organise what we remember, so that we can retain what is useful and good, while discarding the rest. Our choices thereby influence the kind of people we become.

Secondly, on account of its association with prudence, memory links the past and the future. It does this by taking what we choose to retain of past experience and acquired knowledge and applying it our future intentions. For example, in seeking to raise their game, a person might explore the qualities to which they aspire and then introduce them into their own performance, so that they become habits. Boersma reminds us that this is not about moralism but about being conformed into the ultimate exemplar of virtue - that is Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, the art of memorisation leads us into meditation. Like going into a library and drawing down a book from the shelf, selecting a verse or a passage from Scripture that we have committed to memory enables us to engage in that 5-stage process - of study, meditation, prayer, performance, contemplation - which ushers us into the presence of God himself. This was prized above all by our mediaeval ancestors as the Beatific Vision - and why not us?



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