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Hallo again to all.

Hackney carriageYou have likely heard of the Knowledge—the famously difficult test to become a London cabby. It involves rote memorization of some 320 routes and 25,000 streets—every street name, corner, turn, landmark and traffic pattern in some 113 square miles centered on Charing Cross. The prize for passing the Knowledge without flaw is the coveted Green Badge, with which—and only with which—one can drive the iconic black hackney carriage most of us call a cab. Studying for the Knowledge generally takes three full years, and often longer. Neuroscientists have discovered that London cabbies have an enlarged posterior hippocampus, a region of the brain most associated with memory. The mature men who take the Knowledge—and they are almost always mature men—demonstrate that it is possible for the brain to grow structurally to acquire vast amounts of information for immediate and lasting access. As drivers often reliant on GPS coordinates for our own navigation, we're in awed amazement of what London cabbies know.

We have a sense that there was a time when ordination examinations were something like the Knowledge, certainly in the seventeenth-century heyday of Church of England intellectual life when the phrase clerus Anglicanus stupor mundi—the Anglican cleric is the astonishment of the entire world—came into currency.* Anecdotes about the rigor of bishops' inquiries into ordinands' knowledge of the sacred tongues, church history, canon law, liturgics and the like can be as amusing today as they must have been daunting in the past.

Unlike the Knowledge-takers, though, Anglicans have in recent generations tended to externalise the recording of our common knowledge: we give open-book exams, universally use search engines to find a pericope or Prayer Book passage, pull up digitised books on our devices and find just the necessary passage, dispense here and there with biblical language requirements, and occasionally oppose the words pastoral and intellectual to one another. This is no disparagement of the ordinands we know or the active layfolk among whom we count ourselves; the externalisation of memory is a trend of the last hundred years, beginning in a serious way with punch cards and continuing through tapes, floppy disks, CDs, and hard drives, on to flash drives and clouds. This is all very efficient, and an important way for us to make sure that we keep pace with a changing world and its ways of sharing information.

We wonder tonight, though, if 'sharing information' has not become a substitute of sorts for the reading, marking, and inwardly digesting to which we were called before the advent of constant connectivity. We all love the ecclesiastical raconteurs we know, who have marinated in Anglican Knowledge so that they have a surfeit of anecdotes with which to salt any conversation with the memory of oral history. They do this without recourse to internet queries, in styles all their own, with ready wit and a joy in spoken sharing. The best raconteurs tend to be older, though—many of the best ones we know have passed on to their reward—autodidacts, self-driven, not always very good at propagating their own kind. Deep Anglican Knowledge, like the Knowledge itself, is hard-earned, gained from soaking and diving into wide fields of our tradition: books, of course, but art and buildings and music and fabric, too. It takes long hours, sitzfleisch, focus, endurance, energy, and plain love.

Will you join us in deepening offline Anglican Knowledge, internalising and learning some parts of our tradition we may have relegated to remote electronic storage? It can be as simple as picking a hymn to memorise this week—you won't regret it—or reading an entire chapter in a book where you only needed the citation of a sentence. Print out something from Project Canterbury on paper and read it on a train commute, rather than on-screen. Buy the hard copy of a book (the author will thank you, however anonymously) and read it straight through, à la mode de nos mères et pères. Write down a precious anecdote from your parish life when it comes to you, and call it up at a dinner party for everyone's amusement. Your brain may grow, and your heart certainly will. External memory is good when its format and methods of access are durable, but lived and internalised memory is a gift of unusual significance as it becomes more uncommon. It brightens every room where it is shared.

See you next week.

Our Signatures

Richard Mammana

All of us at Anglicans Online

8 May 2016

* We know not the first use of this term, on which we have touched before.

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