Even if you don’t believe in any particular tradition, your physical brain and immaterial mind will benefit.
I’m talking about everything from enjoying a neurobic workout to potentially healing psychological conditions like depression and PTSD.
All while feeling closer to your maker.
Ready to dig in and learn more?
Let’s get started!
Why Memorize Scripture? 6 Compelling Reasons
As we go through this list, let me put my cards on the table.
I used to be a fairly militant atheist. That all changed after a friend of mine convinced me to memorize some scripture despite this fact. He kindly shared with me a book by Gary Weber called Happiness Beyond Thought that gave me my first taste of the scientfic evidence that supports memorizing scripture.
Doing so changed everything about how I think about a lot of faith-related matters. I even shared my “conversion” experience in a TEDx Talk. Since delivering that talk, I’ve done more research and would like to share that with you today.
I would just like to suggest before getting started that believers treat the scientific reasons it makes sense to memorize scripture carefully. The data certainly can be useful as tools for persuasion. But when speaking with non-believers, it’s not necessarily the case that the data will convince them the way that it convinced me.
As always, strive to be humble, charitable and kind.
One: Emotional Well-Being & Spiritual Resilience
When times are tough, having several passages of memorized scripture is fantastic for emotional regulation.
David B. Yaden and his team have conducted research showing that people who belong to a religious tradition tend to use more positive words, for example. The use of positive words leads to greater health, higher levels of professionalism and social cohesion.
In How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg ties recalling memorized prayers and mantras to emotional stability.
I’ve experience such benefits myself, as has my student Nic Castle. On this episode of The Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, Nic shares how memorizing information helped him cope with PTSD developed on the job as a cop. Our positive outcomes are validated most closely by research conducted by Dr. Tim Dalgleish and his team.
Two: The Cognitive Benefits of Memorizing Scripture
Memorizing just about anything will give your brain a fantastic workout.
But what sets memorizing the Bible, for example, boil down to more time spent dealing with larger amounts of information.
Some wonderful outcomes can emerge too. As Matt Barclay shared on my podcast, he memorized and delivered most of a Psalm in front of his congregation.
He wasn’t only memorizing the scripture as part of his spiritual journey. He was also using it for brain exercise in the hopes of helping cognitive issues that occured after his experience with cardiac arrest.
Matt’s experience suggests that there’s hope for people who want to recover memory following a stroke.
Note that you might have to start more simply than Matt if you’re in this situation. As Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor shares in My Stroke of Insight, she needed to relearn the alphabet first. Judging by her well-delivered TED Talk, she’s recovered very well.
Three: Historical & Cultural Perspectives
The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that ancient wisdom will improve your life in The Happiness Hypothesis. Although the book could have done more to highlight the many benefits of believing in a divine maker, Dr. Haidt does include the point.
Moreover, several studies have shown that humans are “predisposed” to believe in matters related to the divine. The more you know about what people believed historically, the more perspective you have.
But what does it mean to “know” something? I would suggest that if you cannot recite at least a little scripture from memory, you can’t really claim to know it. As a result, your perspective is limited. But if you can, your perspective grows along with your critical thinking skills.
Further, Dr. Sarah McKay suggests in The Woman’s Brain that we can enrich our lives by widening our experiences. “Indulging” in other cultures is a good thing according to her research.
Finally, my student Mike Mckinley has discussed how memorizing 66 Psalms helped him as a parishioner. Knowing the scriptures by memory, especially the Psalms, helps him provide tremendous historical insight.
Four: Enhanced Language Skills
Memorizing scripture will improve your reading skills while exercising your memory.
Not only that, you have the opportunity to memorize some of the scriptures in their original language. I once demonstrated how I’ve done with this in Latin with the Book of John using a Memory Palace.
Memorizing scripture in the original language has also been shown to improve cognitive function. For example, MRI scans of people who have memorized Sanskrit mantras have increased the size of brain areas responsible for cognition.
As discussed in The Victorious Mind and demonstrated in my own Sanskrit recitation video, my ability to think more clear and express myself better has improved noticeably. In fact, people who have listened to older versions of my podcast have noticed the uptick.
Five: Medical Benefits Based On Interfaith Dialogue
Memorizing scripture from a variety of traditions leads to many benefits.
Take medicine, for example. Sir William Osler has been used by scientists as a model for creating greater healing in doctor-patient relationships.
I’ve seen this play out personally and often have interesting discussions with my own medical practitioner about the spiritual implications of her suggested treatments. We don’t share the same views, but being able to discuss them in an intellectually charitable way is helpful.
Six: Stress Reduction
In an increasingly polarized world. all of the reasons we’ve just explored suggest that you’ll enjoy greater mental strength from memorizing scripture.
You’ll also potentially enjoy reduced stress, especially since recalling scripture is effectively a form of guided visualization. This suggestion might seem like a stress, but you are essentially guided by the scripture you’re recalling and visualizing the words. (Note that by visualize, I’m referring to the fuller, scientific meaning of mental imagery.)
It’s also stress-relieving to feel closer to your tradition. It creates hope, resilience and consolation. As this study found, thinking about scripture and other action-based aspects of faith created great resilience for people suffering a variety of issues during the recent pandemic.
Start Memorizing Scripture For Multiple Benefits
I’m aware of many other reasons people have given for memorizing scripture.
For example, people have pointed out that Jesus himself did so. Several passages in the Bible also command that you do so, a feature of other belief systems as well.
But today I wanted to focus solely on the science that supports the practice for many other reasons. Frankly, it seems pretty clear that if we believe in a creator, why not use the science that appears in creation to advance our practice?
If you’d like help with committing the scripture or prayers in your tradition to memory, here’s a full tutorial on this blog about how to memorize scripture.