Thursday, May 19, 2011

Repetition . . . Repetition

Repetition is a most interesting thing - it simultaneously builds and destroys meaning.

It builds meaning when we take words, give them meaning and tell people to repeat them.  We say the pledge of allegiance or we sing the national anthem because it is important for a society to remember that we are American.  As Americans and we have a common goal of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  We repeat these things because these ideas slowly leak away when we don't consciously remind ourselves of their importance.

We can find this kind of 'meaning building' in the books we read, music we listen to or movies we watch.  If you are an atheist, you seek out words and lyrics and images that resonate with what you want to be reminded of.  Try it - the next time you hear someone talk about spiritual things or read someone's opinion about God or the Bible - if you wince, it is your conditioning that is pushing through your subconscious.  Those "words that scream for your submission" remind you of the awful meaning behind them.

However, repetition also destroys meaning.  Most of us when we were kids would marvel at how repeating a word over and over leaves you confused.  Say the word "fence" about 50 times and it is peculiar how your brain has a hard time figuring out what you are even saying anymore.  The same is true of a person who has been observing a liturgy for the last 50 years, knows the order of service by heart and yet the whole thing seems bereft of meaning anymore.

Maybe that is why Jesus never wrote a book.  Think of that . . . He never instituted a particular order of worship, organizational chart for the church or 3 step process.  No chants, postures or prayers (although there is the Lord's prayer, but even His was borrowed from Hebrew tradition - perhaps an indication of the simple kinds of things to pray for, not a formula).  Even in one of His more sacred moments - the last supper - Jesus reminded the disciples to take part in it, "as often as you do it . . ."

So how can it simultaneously build AND destroy?  Simple . . . it destroys the original meaning through repetition and it builds a new one in its place.  So what starts out in the beginning of the year as a set time to read the Bible first thing in the morning by June becomes something to cross off the list.  A passage from scripture honoring Mary becomes a spell we utter in times of trouble - similar to rubbing a rabbits' foot or clutching a four-leafed clover.   Maybe your church turns into a social club of people with similar political views.  Whatever it is, we need to be wary of repetition - it sneaks in like a thief and robs us of authenticity.

How do we escape the snare of repetition?  Action.  Live it out.  The Word is created fresh in each new Godly action.

Post Script:  Pop quiz: Tell me where - "words that scream for your submission" comes from . . .