Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The Power of Repetition in Worship

I remember when Linda and I watched "The Lego Movie." We enjoyed it. And, it left a mark on my soul. I found myself humming "Everything is AWESOME!!!" I have the song in my head right now. (Most recently, because we now have two grandchildren, "I Am a Gummy Bear" loops through my mind.)

This is about neuroplasticity. J. P. Moreland writes:

"Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to form new brain grooves (i.e., new patterns of synaptic connections) and undergo a change of structure. The brain is not stuck in a static, unchanging structure. In fact, through repeated habit-forming practices of different ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, one can reshape one's brain in a healthy direction. But this reshaping requires three things: practice, practice, practice! Practice doesn't make perfect; it makes permanent." (Moreland, Finding Quiet.)

That is the power of repetition

Be careful of what you repeat over and over again, because it will get inside you and want to stay. BTW, in my college philosophy classes my teaching method is all about getting students to memorize via repetition the correct answers over and over and over again.

Over the years I occasionally hear some Westernized linear-thinking Christian mock the repetitive worship found in a Pentecostal church like mine. But the ancient Hebrews were tribal, and tribal worship is repetitive. "Worship," writes Calvin College philosophy professor James K.A. Smith, "is not primarily a venue for innovative creativity but a place for discerning reception and faithful repetition." (Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, Kindle Location 1256)

N.T. Wright, in his "Everyone" commentary on 1 John 2:3-5, states: 

"[S]ometimes, in some traditions at least, the things we sing in church are deliberately repetitive. We use them quite differently: as a way of meditation, of stopping on one point and mulling it over, of allowing something which is very deep and important to make more of an impact on us than if we just said or sung it once and passed on. Quite different traditions find this helpful: the Taizé movement in France, for instance, uses some haunting brief songs or chants; but you find the same thing in many branches of the modern charismatic movement, where repetition is an essential part of worship. True, some people find these tedious, and want to get back to old-fashioned hymns as quickly as possible. This may be partly a matter of personality. But it may also be that such people are unwilling to allow the truth of which the poem speaks to get quite so close to them. Repetition can touch, deep down inside us, parts that other, ‘safer’ kinds of hymn cannot reach, or do not very often."
- N.T. Wright, The Early Christian Letters for Everyone, p. 139

Repetitive worship is not "mindless," but mind-shaping.

Repeat (meditate on) the truths of God and be transformed.


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