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A Memory Trick for the Ages

(a Steve Orr scripture reflection)

Memory can be a tricky thing. Studies show that, absent a regular review of information, our recall of it starts to…um…drift. We have to give it our attention or we don’t recall it accurately. It’s as if we are a Microsoft Word document that’s stuck on SAVE AS. Our memory function is, somehow, linked into our creative abilities. There are serious debates on whether this connection is a “bug” or a “feature.”


Being aware of all this, I have invested some time and energy into improving my memory. Hearing a statement by memory guru Harry Lorayne was a sea-change moment for me. 

"The main reason that most people forget a name is because they never remember it in the first place!"


Lorayne's revelation led to a refining of a trait I have always had in my life: I am a finder. Most of the time, when others have forgotten where they put something, I can find it. I follow a set of rules to help me do that. My First Rule of Finding Things: Look under something. If what is lost still cannot be found, I use the Second Rule: Stop searching, just observe. You will be surprised at how many missing items will appear, as if by magic, when employing the second rule.


Harry’s “remember it in the first place” is directly responsible for my Third Rule of Finding Things: I simply ask myself, "What is the likely location?" The secret: People who lose things often “lose” them in the same place. If you know the person well enough, you can almost always find where they have mislaid their keys (or whatever) because it’s often in the same place as the last time it was “lost.” In other words: It’s probably not really lost, just left in a likely location and forgotten.  


Their memory problem? They forget to remember it in the first place.


That’s Nicodemus’ problem in this week’s selection from the gospel of John. The scene: One of Israel's leaders sneaks out and meets with Jesus in the night. We will likely never know for certain why he came to Jesus at night. But we do know his purpose: Like almost everyone else in that country at that time, Nicodemus wanted to see the kingdom of God.


He is disturbed and confused by the things Jesus tells him; he doesn’t understand them. But he could have understood them. Jesus makes it quite plain that the leaders of Israel were expected to understand such things. The problem: Along with the other leaders of Israel, Nicodemus failed to "remember it in the first place."  


It's not that these things were unknowable—scripture is filled with references and explanations about the spiritual aspect of God's relationship with his people—it's just that they had stopped really trying to know them. What should have been obvious sounded obscure. Fully knowable, but so forgotten that Nicodemus had no idea how to process what Jesus was saying. 


They had all failed to "remember it in the first place."


We are commanded to meditate on the scriptures. This "night visitor" episode is a great illustration of why we're to do so. The more time we spend reading and meditating on scripture, the more we are going to be able to understand what we read there. We have to be intentional about it.  


We have to make the effort to "remember it in the first place."






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