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Hallo again to all.

Since purchasing a few weeks ago the 16GB flash drive pictured here, we've had occasion to reflect in fresh ways on the nature of memory and storage. On this remarkable device, one can store data equal to the holdings of all the world's great ancient libraries; not even the largest of the medieval monastic or early university libraries held anything like the equivalent of the texts one can keep on this piece of equipment smaller than a toddler's biggest finger. External storage of data is easier and cheaper than ever. Yet our brains and hearts remain the same size as they have been throughout modern human history.

What does this mean for religious memory, for personal memory, for tradition, and for the place-prints that come of prayer and emotion? Should we form fresh ways of religious remembering in light of just how easy it is to keep information on drives and discs? (Tibetan Buddhism, for example, has experienced a remarkable leap into the digital information age thanks to the work of E. Gene Smith.) Should we still memorize and internalize our prayers and hymns, our anecdotes and jokes, when they're all as accessible as the nearest iPad or smartphone? Do we still need, in the Prayer Book's words, to 'read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest' scripture, liturgy, hymnody, and the narratives of the good lives of good women and men?

We hope the answer is a characteristic Anglican hybrid both-and. We do hope that digital scholarship will provide new frontiers for Anglican divinity; the Clergy of the Church of England Database is a prime example of this sort of initiative, as is the Blain Biographical Directory of Anglican Clergy in the South Pacific. Both marry technology with religious knowledge in ways that would have been impossible two decades ago.

But we're quite certain that in the age of Random-access Memory we must redouble our efforts to preserve the kind of Regular Anglican Memory that comes from repetition and memorization. Some Lutherans still commit the reformer's Small Catechism to rote memory, and it was not long ago that Anglicans were required to memorize all or much of the Prayer Book Catechism in order to be confirmed. Those days seem long past, but we all know moving stories of patients with Alzheimer's disease and dementia who can still repeat word for word the entire Prayer of Humble Access, or who can still sing a standard from Hymns Ancient and Modern even long after they have forgotten the names of their children.

The secret of Regular Anglican Memory is in making a prayer or hymn our own by intention and hard work. We pick a text by association or by surprise, and turn it over in our mind, roll it over our tongue, write it out on a page, repeat it as we fall asleep or cycle or shower. Sooner than we expect, the structure of the prayer begins to form the grammar of our hearts. It's in deeper storage than can be lost or erased, and it bubbles up when we and others most need it. It replaces the noise of commercial jingles and all the sounds and words about which we have no choice during the course of each day.

We'll go right onward trusting our flash drive to keep many things safe and in one place, but giving thanks that when our mind quickens and our breath is focused, the words running through our heart, just inaudibly, are such as these:

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green and pleasant Land.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

18 August 2013

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