Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The great 119th

Over the years I've made several attempts to memorise that Psalm of Psalms, Number 119.  All have seemed doomed to failure, for various reasons. Firstly, it's the longest, but that shouldn't necessarily be an issue - I've been able to memorise poems and scripture that in sum are much longer, and in some cases more complex.  It's repetitive and uses the same words and ideas over and over in various ways.  It doesn't easily stick because the links between the statements (each verse being an independent statement) are few, and on only some occasions are there connections that help the memory process.

At present I'm working my way through the notes that Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, provided in his book, The Treasury of David.  He also included, alongside his own notes, the commentaries of other divines, preachers and teachers - and the occasional explorer.  These notes are often illuminating, and it's surprising how much variance these writers can get out of what appears to be a psalm that winds around the same points like a labyrinth. 

Anyway I decided, while working slowly through these notes (often only a verse's worth a day) that I'd have another go at memorising the psalm.  My attempts in the past have involved number system approaches and other tricks of keeping stuff in the head, but this time I'm just working one step at a time, one verse (roughly) a day, using various mnemonics and other memory tricks, and I'm hoping that I'll have the intestinal fortitude to complete the task. 

I have some predecessors in the job.   Spurgeon notes:  Our best improvement of this sacred composition will come through getting our minds into intense sympathy with its subject. In order to this, we might do well to commit it to memory. Philip Henry's daughter wrote in her diary, "I have of late taken some pains to learn by heart Psalms 119:1-176, and have made some progress therein." She was a sensible, godly woman. Having done this, we should consider the fulness, certainty, clearness, and sweetness of the word of God, since by such reflections we are likely to be stirred up to a warm affection for it.

William Alexander, in "The Witness of the Psalms", written in 1877 notes that 'In the midst of a London season; in the stir and turmoil of a political crisis, 1819, William Wilberforce writes in his Diary— "Walked from Hyde Park Corner repeating the 119th Psalm in great comfort"'. 
 
Ruskin
Ruskin, who was a man often at odds with the religious views of his day, wrote: It is strange that of all the pieces of the Bible which my mother taught me, that which cost me most to learn, and which was to my child's mind most repulsive— the 119th Psalm— has now become of all the most precious to me in its overflowing and glorious passion of love for the law of God. 
 
I've now got the first eight verses under my belt, and have to keep tightening my belt to keep them there.  They have a great habit of straying.  Nevertheless, I persevere.  Some 168 days (or more) down the track I may have the whole thing by heart...

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