Tag Archives: Repetition

“Worth Repeating”

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Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.
Exodus 37:1 (NRSVCE)

On Saturday, Wendy and I were driving to our friends’ house for a dinner party. We passed by a church that had a large LED sign out front that had a simple Bible reference in giant letters: “Isaiah 41:10.”

Immediately upon seeing the sign and without thinking, I said out loud, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10 is a verse that I memorized when I was in high school. It became a favorite one for me to quote whenever I was anxious, afraid, or stressed. Sometimes, I had it written on a piece of paper in my pocket. Whenever I reached into my pocket for something and felt the paper, I would say the verse in my head or whisper it to myself. I used it as an affirmation, a reminder, and an antidote to negative blurts that sometimes run rampant in my brain.

Let’s be honest: Today’s chapter of Exodus is boring. Not only is nothing more than a description of the design of the furnishings for God’s ancient tent temple, but it’s almost an exact repeat recitation of verses from about ten chapters back except with the verb tenses changed from future tense (“make a…”) to past tense (“made the…”).

In my perpetual journey through the Great Story I’ve come to learn that sometimes spiritual lessons are not within the text, but outside of it. It’s not what is being communicated that holds value for me as much as how it’s being communicated.

Ancient cultures like the Hebrews often used repetition to help fix something in the reader’s (or hearer’s) brain. Our brains learn from repetition, and by giving the same description twice it both told the audience that it was important and made it more likely that it would be remembered.

In the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think about that verse from Isaiah. I can’t remember the last time I’d quoted it, but all it took was seeing the reference and it came pouring out of me. As I pondered that this morning I realized that it wasn’t something that I simply memorized to pass a test or check it off a to-do list like your notes for a history exam. It wasn’t like memorizing lines for a role on stage in which I memorized it for a period of time for a specific reason only to dismiss it when I no longer needed it. I memorized the verse, but then with repetition tied to countless moments of anxiety, stress, or fear it got ingested into my soul. It became a part of me.

I had a mentor once tell me, “the Word isn’t for reading, it’s for eating.” Just as food is digested to feed the body with critical, life-giving nutrients, so verses like Isaiah 41:10 become nourishment for soul that devours it. And that process of spiritual digestion begins with same principle used in today’s chapter: simple repetition.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Connect, Disconnect, Reconnect

The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.
Nehemiah 8:17 (NIV)

As a child growing up, I attended a protestant church that practiced what I would call a very “high church” worship. I was part of a children’s choir. We wore robes with embellishments that corresponded to the season of the church calendar, as did the minister. There was a lot of pomp and grand tradition complete with a pipe organ and stained-glass windows. The service contained many prescribed liturgical practices, responsive readings, and the like. As a child, it was at first all I knew and I found meaning in it all. As I got older, however, it all seemed a bit boring and empty. There grew within me a huge disconnect between my spirit and all the rote repetition of those high-church liturgical practices.

I became a follower of Jesus in my teens and quickly left the church of my childhood. I connected with a different church that had what I would characterize as a freer and more laid-back worship style. It felt more personal to me.

The ironic thing is, as I have continued on in my spiritual journey I have found myself reconnecting with some of the types of liturgical tradition I abandoned in my childhood. When I was a child they were empty of meaning for me, but as I have returned to them I have found them to have all sorts of rich meaning for me at this particular waypoint of life.

In today’s chapter, Ezra reads the law of Moses (the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number, and Deuteronomy) out loud to all of the assembled exiles who had returned to Jerusalem and repaired the walls of the city. This is some 400-500 years before Jesus. The vast majority of the people were illiterate and had lived all or most of their lives in Babylon. Many had likely never heard the law of Moses read before.

In the Hebrew tradition, the law of Moses prescribed various feasts and festivals throughout the seasons of the year. The “Feast of Tabernacles” (a Tabernacle is like a tent or temporary shelter) happened in the fall and commemorated the Hebrew people camping out as they left slavery in Egypt and returned to the land of Canaan. When the Ezra and the people read about this festival, they realized that they should be celebrating it right then. So, they did.

Ezra and the people of Jerusalem reconnected to a tradition that had been lost and forgotten for centuries, and it was filled with all sorts of meaning for them.

Along my life journey, I have observed that this happens to us a lot as human beings. Traditions and rituals get abandoned and fade away as they lose meaning and connection for those of us repeating them. At some point down life’s road, we rediscover them at a point in our spiritual journey when they meaningfully connect and become spiritually filling. What was old becomes new, what was lost to us as meaningless and boring we find to have all sorts of meaning.

In the quiet this morning I am revisiting the many spiritual traditions that I have experienced in my journey. I’ve experienced a plethora of traditions from the liturgical high-church of my childhood to the Evangelical show. I have sat in the silence of a Quaker meeting house, been in the frenzy of a Charismatic revival meeting, and the energetic worship of a black Baptist church. I long ago abandoned any notion of any tradition being “right” or “wrong.” They are all simply different traditions that have something to teach me. Some connect with my spirit in ways others do not, but each tradition and ritual has something to teach me at different waypoints of my spiritual journey if I’m open and willing to learn them.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Repeated Message

Then the Lord said to Isaiah, Go out to meet Ahaz…and say to him, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint…

There are certain messages that need repeating. We humans tend to be forgetful. We need to be reminded of things. As a parent (and/or spouse), you get used to repeating yourself…

“Turn out the lights when you leave the room.”
“Don’t forget [fill in the blank]”
“Take off your shoes.”
“Tie your shoes.”
“Wipe your nose.”
“Eat something.”

“Zip your fly.”
“Go to bed.”

“I love you.”

I’ve noticed in my journey through God’s Message that God also repeats the same messages over and over and over again to us children. One of them came up again in today’s chapter:

“do not fear”

A quick search tells me “Do not be afraid” or similar phrasing is repeated nearly 100 times across God’s Message. That has me thinking this morning about the things I’m a afraid of each day. Maybe not knee-knocking, debilitating fear, but certainly nagging pessimistic fear: the future of our country, financial stability, the business climate, old age, declining health, the well-being of my wife and children, and the Cubs’ postseason.

Fear is rooted in doubt that things will be okay.
Doubt is the opposite of faith.
Without faith it’s impossible to please God.” (Heb 11:6)

God says it over and over and over again.

“Do not fear.”
“Don’t be afraid.”
“Do not fear.”
“Fear not.”
“Don’t be afraid.”

Okay.

[sigh]

Go Cubs.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image: st3f4n via Flickr

Some Things Bear Repeating

Gnomeo & Juliet
Gnomeo & Juliet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My heart, O God, is steadfast;
    I will sing and make music with all my soul.
Awake, harp and lyre!
    I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
    I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.
Psalm 108:1-5 (NIV)
[and Psalm 57:7-11 (NIV)]

Wise King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” We are always taking what has been and repurposing it, recycling it, or building on it anew. It’s part of the creative process God bred into us when He, the master Creator, molded us in His own image. For example, consider Shakespeare’s famous romance Romeo and Juliet. One does not have to search far to find countless adaptations of the Bard’s timeless story:

Adaptations and regurgitations aren’t inherently wrong or bad (though some of them are certainly poor reflection of the original). The truth is that some things bear repeating. As children we hear our parents repeat the same things over, and over, and over. As parents we repeat the same things to our children over, and over, and over. It often takes us hearing the same message repeated ad nauseam before it finally sinks in and gets applied. As an actor, I repeat the same lines over and over and over again as part of the memorization and rehearsal process. It never ceases to amaze me how often I will say a particular line countless times, but find new depth of understanding and meaning after hundreds of repetitions.

When reading through the collective lyrics of the Psalms, it’s easy to feel like we’re reading the same thing over and over. That’s because, in some cases, we are. The opening verse of Psalm 108 is an almost word-for-word repeat of the last verse of Psalm 57. Likewise, the third verse of Psalm 108 is a repeat of last verse of Psalm 60.

Some things bear repeating, and some do not. Wisdom is knowing the difference.

Preparing for a Role: “How Do You Memorize All Those Lines?”

lines Ah WildernessIt’s the most common question I get as an actor from those who have never been on stage: “How do you memorize/remember all of those lines?”

There are two important things that are true about memorizing lines:

  1. You’ve simply got to do the work of memorization.
  2. There are tricks that make the work easier than you might think.

Make no mistake. Memorization does takes time and effort. You sit with your script and go over the lines again, and again, and again. I will sometimes say the line until I can repeat it perfectly, then repeat it 10 – 20 – or 30 times in a row. There is no substitute for repetition.

What those who have never been on stage do not realize is that the entire acting process does make it easier. It’s not as if you’re memorizing totally random words or thoughts. The lines you’re memorizing are generally part of a conversation. As you internalize the context of the situation/conversation the lines tend to flow naturally. If another character on stage asks your character a question, your line is the logical answer to that question. Your brain follows the order of the conversation and the line becomes like a piece of a puzzle. “This line,” the brain reasons, “fits perfectly at this point in the conversation.”

In addition, when you “block” the scene (determining when and were you move on stage) certain movements or actions become linked to a line or lines by your brain. “When walking over to the table, you’re supposed to say this,” the brain remembers.

Typically, the memorization process requires help. For our production of Ah, Wilderness! there are four stage managers who make themselves available to “run lines” with the actors. Having a wonderful wife who is a capable actor in her own right, I have the luxury of a partner who understands the need to run lines and is typically happy to do so.

Technology also affords actors simple and inexpensive tools. Using a cell phone or computer, you can easily record a “cue track.” You or another person read the line immediately preceding your line and then your line. I have an iTunes playlist of the cue track for all of my lines in Ah, Wilderness! When I’m driving or doing mindless chores around the house I play the cue track on my iPhone and listen to my lines over and over and over again. My car and iPhone also provide me with a “pause” button so I can listen to the cue line, hit pause, then try to say my line from memory.

Ah Wilderness Cue Track Sample

In the rehearsal process, you’re usually allowed to have the script (a.k.a “book”) in your hand through the blocking and working process of a scene. The rehearsal schedule will tell you when you have to be “off book” for particular scenes. One you’re supposed to be “off book” you can’t have your script with you, but for a period of time you can “call for lines.” If you forget your line you simply say “line” and a stage manager or production assistant is following along and will feed you the line. As you near performance, you are no longer allowed to call for lines and if you forget the line you and your fellow actors are required to figure it out in the moment.

Of course, the process of going “off book” is a natural stressor for actors in any production – but I think that those who’ve never been on stage imagine it to be harder and more stressful than it actually is. The repetition of rehearsals the the natural flow of the process make line recall easier than many believe it to be.

 

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 7

When the Altar was anointed, the leaders brought their offerings for its dedication and presented them before the Altar because God had instructed Moses, “Each day one leader is to present his offering for the dedication of the Altar.” Numbers 7:10-11 (MSG)

Sometimes when reading God’s Message, I don’t find the lesson within the text but within the pattern of the text. For twelve straight days a leader brought the same offering for the dedication of the altar. The text dutifully and exhaustively chronicles the exact same thing twelve times in a row. For the reader this is kind of boring repetition. For me, the lesson is not within all of the offerings, but in asking myself why it was chronicled this way.

Each of the leaders was required to complete the same offering. There was no pass for family standing or the number of shekels they’d donated to the building of the tabernacle. The same thing was required of each person. In the same way, Jesus did not offer a free pass to anyone. If any one wants to follow, Jesus said, they must deny themselves, take up their own cross, and follow. No exceptions.

There is also something powerful in repetition. Read the story of any athletic champion. We see them excel in a few moments on television and hoist the trophy above their heads. It looks so easy and effortless for them. What we don’t see is the disciplined, boring, repetition of training and practice. The amazing ten second highlight on SportCenter is the result of countless hours of lonely practice in the gym and the weight room.

The end of today’s chapter is the powerful presence of God as Moses enters the holy place. But, the power and presence was preceded by twelve days of dutiful, repetitious, obedient, and disciplined offerings by each of the leaders.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  I Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)