Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hid In My Heart

Before my friend's father died, he had a stroke that left him mostly without words for a few weeks.  His near-total aphasia left little intact, but there were some words that came out readily.  My friend's dad had been a pastor, and when his faculty of speech left him, the words of his prayers, of the scriptures, and of the hymns and psalms were all that remained.  Daily habit of repetition had ingrained them in his heart, too deep to be erased by the stroke.

On his blog, Kelly Dean Jolley has an icon of St Mark the Ascetic, or St Mark the Wrestler, that Jolley has kindly allowed me to include here.  In his hands St Mark holds a scroll that reads "Thy word have I hid within my heart."  Those words are from the 119th Psalm, a long poem about scripture.

When I was in college, my French professor Charles Nunley required me to memorize a new poem every week.  Every week or two I'd go to his office and he would name one of the poems I'd learned and expect me to recite it, and then to discuss it.  I'm not a great memorizer, so it was painful work, but I've been grateful for the discipline every year since then.  It is a gift to have verses hidden in my heart.

I am reminded of Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she heard what the shepherds were saying.  Luke tells us that she "treasured these things in her heart," which I take to mean that she heard them, and then put them in that front room of her memory, the palm and fingertips of the mind where we touch and explore and consider ideas, turning them over and over again.

Well, this is what I do with treasured verses, anyway.  Like I said, I'm a poor memorizer.  But when I work at it, I hold the verses at mind's-eye level and gaze at them, running my inner eye down the length of them repeatedly, considering the way the grain moves and feeling the heft of the words until the grooves of my mind fit the notches of the words like a key.  Because I hope that what I have hid in my heart will be like the Brothers Grimm's "Golden Key," which opens...well, I had better not tell you.  Read it for yourself.

I wonder - when the great grinding erasure of time scrubs away at my memories, what will be left?  What grooves in my grain will be too deep to scrape away?  What treasures, what verses, what songs of my species will be buried too deep in my heart for the thief of time to steal?

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