I was a small boy who could barely read when my mother began instilling in my little brain the idea of memorizing things: phone numbers, addresses, scripture, poems. She was an advocate of memorizing long passages of prose; speeches and monologues, a passion she got from her mother, the teacher.
Also, my grandmother (who passed before I was born) was, as someone who lived through the wars, convinced the scripture would someday be taken out of the hands of the faithful and should be memorized as much as possible. She herself could recite at least 4 books of the Bible, in scorching King James English (so mom said.)
As was often the case, being the child of the “Church script writer”, I was “cast” as the child with the longest (and I’m sure, the most dramatic) monologues and Bible verses to recite. I was at my hometown church one day when mom and dad were there doing something else, and I decided to go to the sanctuary and see how scary it was to stand up on the platform and deliver to the rows of empty, blonde wood, pews. I started the walk up to the front from the back when someone popped their head up from below one of the pews. It was Mr. Reiboldt, the father of some of my friends at church, he was fixing something in one of the pews…he smiled and said “Hi”. He then asked what I was doing and I told him I was going to practice my “monologue”. He then asked me a question that confused me because I had never heard the term before.
“Do you know it by heart?”
It’s funny how some things stick with you. I couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 years old and yet, I can see the pews, see his 40-year-old face, hear his voice and see the surprise on his face when learning I had never heard that term before. He explained that having something memorized was often referred to as, “knowing it by heart.” That could refer to things like what I was learning and delivering…but also to things, truths, that need to be “kept in our heart.”
“Do you know that your mom and dad love you?”
“THAT is something you know by heart.”
“Do you know that we all love you?”
“Keep that in your heart.”
“Do you know that God loves you?”
“Then, there are the most important things you can know…by heart.”
Again, if an angel had broken through the walls, stood beside Mr. Reiboldt with a flaming sword held high I couldn’t have been more impressed (for more than 50 years or so) with that moment in time than I was…it has stayed with me.
The term comes from the Greeks, who had no separation, in their culture and philosophy, between logic and emotion, considering the organ of the heart to be the seat of knowledge. To “know something by heart” was to remember in the deepest part of you, and COMMIT to remember it.
Currently, I am performing some Shakespeare. I don’t have a large role, but it IS significant: I’m one of the storytellers. I have 3 monologues. They are stunningly beautiful and crafted as only a brilliant writer can craft: using language as a painter uses brushes and oil, and as a sculptor uses chisels, hammers, and polishing cloths. They are also difficult for a 61-year-old mind to remember…but I am DRIVEN to remember them because they also contain “truth”…and I want to commit them “to heart.”
What do YOU know by heart?
Jesus is constantly reminding us that there are some things we know by heart that we shouldn’t: worry, past indiscretions He has forgiven, the times someone else hurt us, as examples. We may not WANT to commit those things to our hearts, but we do, and we memorize every hurt and say it, play it, over and over again. Jesus reminds us that the things we keep in our hearts tell everyone (including Himself) what we truly “treasure”. (MATTHEW 6:21)
YET, as humans we are prone to forget the GOOD things, the beautiful things, the true things…and the writer, Paul, reminds us to actually to commit those things to heart. (PHILIPPIANS 4:8). God asks that we remember what He has done for us, so as to STRENGTHEN us. Psychologists teach that training the mind to remember good events, strong events, actually CHANGES the way our mind works (as the opposite does, as well). People who learn by heart to say the bad things in their lives over and over again will change…you and I have seen it happen, and experience those kind of people every day. Those that remember when God delivered, when God loved, when God provided, also change…you and I see a few of them every day as well.
What do YOU know by heart?
Choose carefully what you learn, what you memorize, and what you know by heart. It will change you…change isn’t bad, change is life. But whether you change for the better or worse is up to you.
“Go to your bosom; knock there and ask your heart what it doth know.” SHAKESPEARE
“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” ROMANS 12:2