Closing night for my son's high school musical came this past Saturday. My wife and I saw it several times and enjoyed every minute of the light-hearted play Guys and Dolls. However, ever since then those show tunes keep popping up randomly in my mind. Perhaps it speaks in part to the simple catchiness of the songs.Yet part of it is also due to sheer repetitiveness. This reminds me of the broader power of repetitiveness in matters of the faith as well. Carolyn Arends in "Going Down Singing - Why We Should Remember That We Will Die," an article in the April 2011 issue of Christianity Today, tells about the efforts of retired professor Margaret Guenther to ingrain the well-known Jesus Prayer into her daily routine by repetition in preparation for the time of her death. Guenther writes, "I hope that by imprinting [the Jesus Prayer] on my subconscious, it will be with me for the rest of my life, especially at the end, when other words will perhaps be lost to me."
In a recent visit to the local hospital I offered the Sacrament to an elderly member deeply in need of spiritual encouragement. Due to her difficulty in hearing the usual extra devotional reading from Scripture, with its corresponding homily, was waived and we concentrated on the liturgy alone. I did this knowing that even if she could not hear my every word, she could participate from memory. These words of our ancient worship forms were imbedded in her heart and mind through decades of use, reinforced monthly in my shut-in visitations. In the days ahead I will be called to minister to her in what appears to be the final days of her earthly journey, and I know that familiar words learned through a lifetime of repetition will form the foundation of my ministry to her.
When my life nears its own earthly end, I pray that the years I have spent in the repetition of the sacred liturgy, singing hymns first sung by my distant forefathers, will also comfort my heart in preparation to the final journey to depart and be with Christ.