Growing up, I took piano lessons for the better part of seven years or so. And yet, if you sat me in front of piano today, about the only melody I might be able to produce would be one half of the Heart & Soul duet. Or maybe, if I had enough time, I could figure out Hot Cross Buns. It seems the moment I took my last lesson, I pretty much resisted playing ever again, not wanting to prepare for another recital or sit through another tortuous lesson.
My sister, on the other hand, never resists an opportunity to play Beethoven’s Fur Elise every time we’re back at our parent’s house with the family piano nearby. It’s been just as many years, if not more, since she, too, took lessons. But she committed that song to memory years ago… and has continued to play it and play it, over and over again.
I’d imagine even if she had the sheet music in front of her, she wouldn’t know what to do with it. She’s played the song so many times, I’m certain it’s as much about muscle memory as anything else. Repetition turns into memorization which sears notes or words or actions into our brains.
Our brains work in mysterious ways. And sometimes it’s a bit baffling that we can remember some things so vividly while others can be so easily erased from our minds. But there’s one thing that, for the most part, seems to hold true: we end up memorizing what we do repeatedly.
It’s why you could probably drive the route to your house with your eyes closed—because you’ve done it so many times. The same reason why some people with advanced dementia I visit in care facilities may not know what they ate for breakfast but can speak with confidence the entire Lord’s Prayer. Or why we teach our children to say please and thank you. Because we hope, in time, that those words turn into habits, which will lead to a life of gratitude toward others.
Whether we like it or not, what we do repeatedly forms our most essential values and practices throughout our lives. The sorts of things that come so naturally we hardly give it any thought. All of which makes me wonder, what do each of us spend our lives committing to memory?
Besides piano etudes or music lyrics, what words, actions, or perspectives have you memorized? In other words: do the attitudes and practices we use convey the sort of lives of faith God calls us to?
I wonder: do we speak certain words so often that we instinctively communicate love & understanding? Do we repeat patterns of action that result in effortlessly sharing with generosity? Do we forgive so willingly that it’s second nature, or practice peaceful or joy-filled responses with such regularity that we don’t even realize we’re doing it anymore?
That’s the kind of faithfulness I aspire to possess. Not a life that simply prepares for the recital or performance and then moves on; a faith that’s waiting only for applause or accolades. May we all choose carefully what patterns we’ll rehearse, so that kindness, compassion, and love all become etched in the muscle memory of our hearts.