For a very long time now, the role of memory has been questioned and even cast aside. In the classrooms of our schools you no longer hear the recitation of multiplication tables nor do the students learn to speak by memory great poems, texts, and orations of our past. In fact, memorizing is viewed with disdain by those who think more highly of understanding than of simple rote recollection. Our children no longer know how to do simple math and require the calculator on their smart phones to make up for their own lack -- the same as adults! The whole idea of mnemonic techniques to learn rules and complicated knowledge has been lost to us and the whole concept is seen as positively antique -- whether i before e or the bones of the body. No, we do not need memorization techniques if we have a smart phone and the internet. Even directions are passing away and we no longer need to recall how to get from here to there as long as we have a maps app. We do not even know the lyrics of our favorite songs and sometimes are oblivious to the words that accompany the tunes and rhythms we so enjoy. But we do not need to. We have apps for that. They tell us who sings it, who wrote it, and everything we want to know. Our videos on our phones, text messages, and live photos make it possible for us to relive the past without memory -- simply through the benefit of our technology. Though it might seem that this relieves us of a rather mundane and ordinary task, it also diminishes the whole idea of and the value of memory. The smart technology is making us stupid.
Furthermore our memories are shaped more and more by feelings than by events. We remember quite specifically how we felt even more than we recall exactly what happened. In interviews we often hear someone asked how or what did you feel when you.... It is a way of expressing again the primary of those feelings even over the facts of the events -- of course, within the recollection of our memories also. There is an art to memory and memorizing that is being lost to us in the course of education and business, life and leisure, but it is surely also true of the Church. To remember is to know God and what He has done and to know who we are because of what He has done.
Memory once provided the structure on which the liturgy and Scripture lived. We memorized the Mass and we knew it both by the sound of the words and the music of those words. We learned Scripture in the same way. Long before we read it in a book, we learned it and it became a part of us through the gift of memory. Hymnals and Bibles reinforced but did not replace the role of memory in learning and passing on the faith. I cannot tell you how many times a person who had not responded to family or a person who had lost sight or other senses responded instinctively to the sound of the Divine Service or the Creed or the Our Father. When all other contact appeared to be lost, in the consciousness lived the memory of their lifelong participation in the Divine Service and in the familiar and constant texts of the liturgy. The same is true of Scripture put to memory. Start saying the 23rd Psalm and you will see many lips moving and hear many voices whispering their echo to your own voice.
Now in an age of constant change when the words and music of worship are ever new, memory has surrendered to the screen. We do not bother to learn what we do not need to -- what we can depend upon being displayed for us. Things in worship today are meant not for a lifetime but for a moment and the throw away culture of the moment has encroached upon the texts and tunes of the liturgy. It is a profound loss to the power of memory to remember and keep what we learned and know. In an age of apps, we no longer depend upon our memory and are left poorer for it when the technology fails us or the internet is down. If we have not memorized and learned it, it no longer resides within us and we must depend upon something outside of us to know what was once a part of us. I notice this by how few of the Biblical phrases in my sermons are recognized and how hard it is for us to know where to find things in the Bible. Part of this memory is informed by and strengthened by our journey through the book, looking at the pages around what we are reading as well as the immediate context. Without this Biblical vocabulary instilled in us, the voice of God has become a strange and alien voice and not the familiar words and phrases of a Good Shepherd whom we know and who knows us.
Artificial intelligence (now that is an oxymoron) may well be adept at providing us with services but at what cost? What do we lose in us and in our memories to surrender to technology this vital part of learning? The loss of memory as part of our human faculties will intensify as AI and technology take over more and more of what we do. Some see this as a good thing. I am not sure that depending upon a YouTube video to teach us how to do the things we once learned and recalled through the faculty of memory is a good thing. It may have its place but if it robs us of our ability to know and recall without the aid of this crutch, it will take more from us than it gives. While this is true in schools particularly, it is no less true in the realm of worship.