Do you have vivid memories of scenes from novels you’ve read and movies you’ve watched? Do you ever wish that you could have the same kind of recall for the things you have to memorize for school or for the truths of the Faith? Have you wondered why it is that you remember so clearly these imaginary scenes in all their detail without even trying to memorize it, but you can’t seem to recall whatever it is you’re trying very hard to commit to memory?
The reason for this is that we have a very strong visual memory that allows us to associate images with ideas, whereas trying to commit the ideas by themselves to memory is much more difficult. This is why you can probably give an imaginary 3D tour of your childhood home in your mind, but you can’t remember the state capitals or the periodic table.
There are a great many things in life that are worthy of being held in our memories permanently. Among the most important are the truths of our Faith and the beautiful verses of Sacred Scripture. In fact, we all commonly recognize something about memory that the Jewish Rabbis and Scholars of the Old Testament are keenly aware. Namely, that memory is a very big part of love. Think about it. A man can say that he loves his wife, but if he can’t remember their anniversary or her birthday, how likely is she to believe him when he says the words? We all seek to remember as many things as we can about the people and things that we love. Shouldn’t it be all the more true with God, whom we should love above all things? Lovers will commit the letters of their beloved to memory. Why not take the same effort with God’s love letters to us, the Scriptures.
So, do you want to start committing the best things you’ve ever read or thought about to memory? How about some of the Psalms? Can you recall all the gifts of the Holy Spirit? How about the Ten Commandments in order? We need a new method for these things though, since the one we’ve tried before (whatever it happened to be) obviously doesn’t work.
Actually, instead of a new method we need an older method. One that the world has largely forgotten about but the principles of which have been confirmed by modern psychology. This method was developed by great master scholars of Medieval Europe, when they didn’t have Google Books and sometimes the only extant copy of a text was in a library hundreds of miles away. Their solution was to devise an ingenious system for memorization that makes use of our brain’s tendency to cling to visual memories more than abstract ideas. Using this method of visualized memory, they were able to commit vast texts of Scriptures, Philosophy, and The Fathers of The Church to memory and have it at their command. This method is mentioned in some of the greatest works of Medieval scholarship, including the best of the best, St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae.
Where can you find a guide to this method? I heartily recommend This Book written by Dr. Kevin Vost. He will take you step by step through exercises that will teach you to create imaginary “spaces” in your mind wherein you will “place” the items you’re trying to remember. This process is called by some the creation of a ‘mind palace’ and is traditionally called the “method of loci.” I am continually amazed by how effective this is for recalling even very difficult sets of data. This could be anything from the Ten Commandments to your shopping list for this weekend.
We’ve allowed our memories to be crippled by our instant access to information. Reclaim your memory of the Truth and make it a part of yourself! The method is a tool and can be used for anything. Remember that we always want to remember things about the ones we love, so try this method for remembering the important things about the One whom you love above all else!