Memory is a strange thing. Sometimes seemingly out of nowhere, I can suddenly remember things I experienced years ago. Then I realize that my memory was triggered by a scent, sight, sound, or physical touch.
For example, every year around the month of November I have a sudden and strong recall of the first time I learned to play jazz. I remember the position I was sitting in, with whom I was playing, what I was playing, the feel of the guitar, and the sound of the old tube amplifier. I had finally captured the touch that gave my playing a sense of Wes Montgomery, the famous jazz guitarist.
With the arrival of November, all I have to do is see a golden brown maple leaf or hear a familiar jazz tune, and the memory returns as if it had happened just moments ago. Even though I haven’t really practiced in about five years, I can still play jazz. The fingering patterns, sounds, rhythms, melodies—these things have become such a part of me that, after warming up, I am back playing things I was sure I had forgotten.
Recently Benjamin Mast wrote an article for Comment magazine titled: “Reestablishing Rhythms on Remembering: The Church's Unique Practices of Memory Are a Gift to an Aging Society.” The article is about “how people and practices can be arranged to address some of the pain of Alzheimer's—the deep confusion about who we are and where we fit.” A lot of what he says is insightful for those of us who have ordinary healthy memories as well.
As Christians, we often act in ways that surprise us and betray our beliefs. We believe that God has accepted us by faith alone, in Christ alone; yet we approach God confidently when we feel worthy, and hesitantly when we feel sinful. Never mind that Christians believe all we do is tainted with sin. We forget that too.
We forget lots of things. We forget to forgive and show mercy and, instead, we discover ourselves to be hateful and aggressive. We forget our identity, our faith, our hope, and our love.
Worship practices that follow an ordinary expected weekly pattern help us to remember what is important in our faith. Having the same creeds, prayers, songs, and themes—along with emphasizing the movement and flow from law to gospel, sin to salvation, and confession to forgiveness—reminds believers of the basics of the Christian faith.
These patterns get into our hearts and help us live by faith from week to week. We remember more of our faith when all our senses are engaged through kneeling, standing, sitting, reciting, and singing. Our faith shapes our identities through our practices.
We remember as we spend time with people who share our deepest convictions. As we pray together, recite together, hear together, eat together, and just spend time together, the convictions we share are reinforced. The way we worship matters more than we realize.