by Rev. Dr. Greg Wismar
As the days of summer bring us more daylight for enjoying the full creation with which God has blessed us, we think about expanding our time spent getting some beneficial exercise. Health professionals have often noted that cardio exercise is great for people in many ways. Cardio receives its name from the word cardiovascular, that which deals with the heart. Cardio exercise is any activity that gets your heart rate up. It is good for and energizes the body.
There is another kind of cardio exercise that invites our attention as well and also involves our hearts. That kind of exercise is the committing of elements of our faith and worship to memory, that is, learning them by heart. In an information-saturated age such as that in which we live, it is easy to dismiss the option of careful, disciplined, “by heart” memorization by noting and repeating how readily available technology makes all sorts of learning. Bibles, catechisms, hymn collections and countless devotional materials are all available online.
But you don’t always have that access. Nothing replaces “by heart” learning. Centuries ago the psalmist sang to the Lord: “I have stored up Your word in my heart” (Ps. 119:11). God’s people have always memorized and internalized His Word and His promises. Included among His commands to the children of Israel is this very plain directive regarding His words: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deut. 6:6).
Committing the Scriptures to memory is a good way to begin some appropriate “by heart” exercise. But that could well be only the beginning of a good spiritual exercise regimen.
In giving guidelines for a right amount of cardio exercise, one website stated: “To maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, you should do 30 minutes of cardio at least 3 times a week.” Imagine what spiritual benefits could come from investing 90 minutes in “by heart” learning of Bible verses, hymn stanzas and prayers!
Generations of Christians have taken the time and effort to memorize prayers, hymns and also parts of the liturgy, learning them by rote. Although for some people the word rote has a negative connotation, it really is a positive word. It comes from the same language background as the word route, which basically means a “pathway” that takes you where you want to be going. To know something by rote or “by heart” means that you can call it up in any time and place, which can be a blessing in many situations.
The slower-paced days of summer give us extra opportunities to engage in the very best of cardio exercise as we strengthen our memories and expand our “by heart” capacities to God’s glory.
About the Author: The Rev. Dr. Greg Wismar is pastor emeritus of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Newtown, Conn.