Monday, August 15, 2016

Preparing the Text on Paper

This may be one of the more optional steps I describe in memorizing a long portion of Scripture, though for me it has been one of the most helpful and convenient.

By preparing the text, I don't mean changing the inspired words in any way, but rather how they are presented on paper. There are a lot of things Bible publishers include with a translation on a page, that are not inspired. I'm not only talking about headings and commentary notes, but even verse numbers, paragraph and chapter divisions. None of that was included by the original authors. For many these things can be distracting.

If I am memorizing one of Paul's letters, in order to hide the Word in my heart in English as close as possible to how it was originally written, I find it helpful to remove distractions, and to instead find natural connections in the thoughts communicated in the Scriptures.

This is one way in which I differ with another widely distributed publication (now an eBook) about memorizing long passages of Scripture. He advises including and even speaking the verse numbers when reciting the text. To me, when memorizing a letter, for instance, this would undermine the effect of reciting a letter as a letter as it was originally written if it is peppered from beginning to end with uninspired verse numbers. While it is true that I am less able to specifically know the reference for verses I can quote, I believe having a greater sense of the meaning and context is a valuable trade-off.

The first step in this process is to access an electronic copy of the chosen text. While there are several Web sites by which one can get a soft copy of the Scriptures, these would make removing verse numbers and notations into a copious and tedious process for long passages of Scripture. Of the various Bible apps available, I use PocketBible which has options for copying large portions of Scripture and also excluding verse numbers and notes. There are still things to remove, but not nearly as many. Having done this a few times now, I'm not as averse (no pun intended) to leaving chapter numbers in the text as I am to verse numbers. One tends to know where those are anyway because of the time that passes while learning each chapter, and they are often sufficient reference to direct another or oneself in where to find a recited text. Eventually, if one goes back and looks up verses often enough for something he has memorized, he will know the references for where those are as well.

Second, I “join” all of the lines together into as few paragraphs as possible. Depending on your word processor or text editor, one may need to have the full passage in several very long paragraphs at first. I could only get the 16 chapters of Romans down to four paragraphs in my text editor when I was redoing this process a few years ago.

Third, I read through the text and add my own paragraph breaks as I see natural breaks in the now very long stream of text. In Romans, I found that the word “Now” made for good natural breaks. I also found that “Therefore” made for a natural break, as it often traditionally has. The idea here is to divide the text up into the size of memorizable chunks. A length similar to online news articles and blogs would be a good target size. Many of the paragraphs on this blog so far would be longer than I have in mind for this. One time when studying James with a student, I had him do this kind of text preparation, and not having given any thoughts or guidance on length, I was surprised his paragraphs were more book-length than blog-post-length. Some may prefer that, but in memorizing, shorter is better to build confidence and make progress.

Fourth, after cleaning out the text in a text editor, I drop it into a word processor to prepare for printing, and look at how the pagination works. I prefer a two-column landscape format. That improves readability and is also more efficient with making use of the page. Being the child of typesetters, I've learned a few things about margins and font size in order to make readable text efficiently fill as few pages as possible.

Fifth, I print at least two copies: one for home, one for me vehicle.

This completes the my initial text preparation stage. Everything after this is simple tweaking or iterating on the original version. For more major adjustments like font changes or paragraph indentation I save those ideas for when I take on another book or long passage.

Why this extra effort for working with the text? It removes barriers to memorizing and increases your options for review. When memorizing long portion of Scriptures, even small barriers can accumulate after a while and be discouraging. Small print in a Bible can be heard to read. Bibles with more readable size text can be heavy to carry around. If you have copies of the text on a few pieces of paper, you also have consistent formatting in different venues that make it easy to refer back for review. If one thinks of having read a book and remembering not just what one read, but where on the page he read something, the same applies to memorization, if not more so. Having the text consistent on paper in convenient places makes it easier to pick up for review and learn more of the text in various places at various times.

As I have gone through and memorized various texts now, I can attest that after having come to a more accurate sense of the meaning of the text than when I was first reading it in my text editor, there are various tweaks I make to my paragraph divisions along the way to better match the flow of the text. Sometimes, like in Ephesians, I've even ended up making one short paragraph out of a single verse like Ephesians 6:3, even though in my chosen translation that may be just the middle of a sentence.

I've heard that sentence divisions in the original text are not there, so those are not inspired either. I don't, however, recommend removing or ignoring those in this text preparation process because even though they may not have been recorded in the original, sentence structure and division are necessary for comprehension, at least in English for those who have not yet memorized the text. When it comes to tweaking, if a natural split in the progression of thought happens to straddle a chapter, verse, or sentence division, that's not going to stop me from having the text on my page reflect what I've learned of the meaning of the text from having memorized it.

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