I have been doing a lot of thinking about repetition and memory recently. In learning more about education and in beginning to teach my own children I have come to see clearly how valuable it is. Repetition and review are essential components of learning and they both help to strengthen one's ability to remember or memorize things.
I am astounded by the quantity of information my kids can retain. We memorize scripture and poetry by reading it aloud daily and they have learned more than I would ever have believed possible before becoming a mom and seeing for myself what young children are capable of. I have even noticed my own memory being improved simply because of working on these things with them.
What has really struck me lately is how all of this is tied up with prayer and with the liturgical tradition which has been handed down by the Orthodox Church through the centuries. Jesus Christ established the church here on earth in such a way as to provide us with all that we need in order to seek and come closer to Him. As our creator, He knows how our minds and our hearts are connected and how (as Andrew Kern says) "we become what we behold".
I came across the following as I was reading The Seven Laws of Teaching, by John Milton Gregory:
Not the scamper of a passing child but the repeated tread of coming and going feet beats for us the paths of our daily life. If we would have any great truth sustain and control us, we must return to it so often that it will at last rise up in mind as a dictate of conscience, and pour its steady light upon every act and purpose with which it is concerned.
"We must return to it so often...." How often we must bring our attention back when we pray! How difficult to pay attention, to behold, when one is standing at prayer. But fortunately God, in His goodness, knows that we find it difficult; and so He has provided us with an answer to the problem. He has so ordained the structure of church life and the liturgical year to repeat, over and over, so that we have the chance, renewed day by day, to come again and attend.
If we look at the cycles that repeat over and over, it becomes clear that this is so.
Yearly we celebrate the twelve major feasts, following the life of Christ, from beginning to end and beyond.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
When Thou O Lord wast baptized in the Jordan...
Today He is suspended on a tree...
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
Season by season we participate in the fasts that have been prescribed for us, to prepare for the coming of Christ and for His Passion and Resurrection.
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power and idle talk....
Week by week we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, coming together to form the Body of Christ as we all partake of His body and blood.
Receive me today, O Son of God, as a partaker of Thy Mystical Supper...
Day by day we pray in our homes, wrapping our days in prayer.
Our Father, who art in Heaven; hallowed be Thy Name.
Hour by hour we remember Christ's passion on the cross.
O Lord, who at the third hour didst send down Thine All-Holy Spirit upon Thine apostles...
O Christ our God, who on the sixth day and hour didst nail to cross the sin which Adam committed in paradise...
O Lord, who at the ninth hour didst taste of death in the flesh....
Minute by minute we cry out,
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
What a great gift we have been given! What a joy to be able to come again and again to these prayers, each time with new sight and new hope. As we continue to pray these prayers, day after day, year after year, we slowly become transformed. Little by little we can begin to hear what is being said. Slowly, we can begin to memorize these words. We repeat them again and again and a great wonder begins to take place: bit by bit we become transformed. The words sink into our minds and from our minds into our hearts and they become part of us. We hold them in the very core of our beings and the prayers are no longer external, but have become internal. They have penetrated the depths of our souls and we stand in awe at the wisdom of God who has ordered it to be so.